Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew rolled back the years to tame a windswept Royal Troon and raise hopes of a second victory in the AIG Women’s Open.
Eleven years after winning her sole major title at Royal Lytham, Matthew carded a superb level-par 71 in winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour to lie a shot off the clubhouse lead held by Germany’s Sophia Popov.
The 50-year-old Scot was two over par with four holes remaining before making a hat-trick of birdies from the 15th and completing her round with a bogey on the 18th.
“I think coming in here with how I’ve been playing lately, probably making the cut would be good,” Matthew said. “But obviously a day like today, the conditions probably helped me that it’s not going to be super low (scoring).
“No reason why I can’t go on from here. Obviously there’s still a huge way to go, but just need to keep plugging away.”
Matthew’s performance was aided by a new putting grip and she added: “It’s quite a radical change. Over the years I’ve tried various different grips but this ‘saw’ grip is quite a radical one.
“I’ve obviously fiddled about with it in practice and never taken it to a tournament, but I thought there was nothing to lose this week.”
By late afternoon Popov was the only player to have posted a sub-par score and former champion Georgia Hall was happy to have finished on two over after a hard-fought 73.
“Some holes I could barely stand up, it was so windy all the way round but especially at the start,” Hall, who won at Lytham in 2018, told Sky Sports. “I’m pretty happy with how I played today.
“I was hitting a lot of three irons off the tee, I think I hit driver twice the whole round. I want to stay out of all the fairway bunkers and feel that my irons into the greens are fairly strong so want to rely on that a bit more.
“I played quite conservative at Lytham and tried to stay out of the bunkers and that was my aim for today. When you go in a pot bunker you are literally chipping out and then it puts pressure on your third shot. I’d much rather have a greenside bunker shot to try and save par.”
Canada’s Alena Sharp was in the first group out at 6.30am and hit her opening tee shot out of bounds on her way to a dispiriting double bogey, but played the remaining 17 holes in two under to finish level par.
And the Phoenix-based 39-year-old revealed she had extra reason to enjoy her efforts thanks to her Scottish roots.
“I was so ecstatic to see that we were going to get to play Royal Troon and it wasn’t going to get cancelled,” Sharp said. “My grandmother was born in Greenock and my uncle was born in Glasgow. I feel like they were watching over me today and giving me a little help out there.”
Dame Laura Davies, who hit the opening tee shot to mark her 40th appearance in the event, birdied three of the last six holes but the 56-year-old could still only return a nine-over-par 80.