There’s some golf history waiting to be made at St Andrew’s this week. Inbee Park (South Korea) will be chasing her historic 4th major tournament win in a single season. It’s a feat no other golfer, male or female, has been able to accomplish, and Park will take her run at history in Eastern Scotland, just 63 miles from Musselburgh Links, where Mary Queen of Scots first picked up sticks in 1567. With Mary ghosting the heath and 142 golfers chasing her, there’s a lot of golf to play this week before Park, like Mary Queen of Scots, becomes the history maker.
Inbee Park has been holding the #1 Rolex ranking for 16 weeks going in to the RICOH Women’s British Open. She will tee off on Thursday with 6 victories and 8 top-10 finishes this year. She’s at the top of the game. The top money winner this year, she’s #1 in putts per GIR, putting average, round in the 60s, and scoring average. Through the USGA Women’s Open at the end of June, Park was wielding a putter so hot that it smoked when she walked on to the green. But she’d cooled off at the Manulife Financial and her game on the links-style course at Grey Silo was considerably less impressive than it had been at the Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, NY. While Park has never won the British Women’s Open, she placed 2nd last year, 9 shots behind Jiyai Shin (South Korea), She’s had a taste of a very sweet apple and her game is well-suited to St Andrews. She hits low, a necessary counter to the windy conditions in Eastern Scotland, and she’s a superb lag putter. She’s positioned to make her run.
Who will be closest in the chase? Catriona Matthew (Scotland) and Karrie Webb (Australia) seem the likeliest viable challengers.
Matthew, at #10 in the Rolex Rankings, will be playing on home ground and she won the British Women’s Open in 2009 at the Royal Lyntham & St Anne’s Golf Club. Matthew’s drive is slightly longer than Park’s and they’re about equal in driving accuracy. When she’s hot, Park can out-putt Matthew, but the depth of Matthew’s experience playing golf in Eastern Scotland could easily counterbalance that advantage. Matthew will challenge Park to play the best golf of her career.
Karrie Webb (Australia), like Catriona Matthew, is well-positioned to challenge Inbee Park. A 3-time winner of the Women’s British Open (1995, 1997, 2002), Webb will also bring a depth of experience to St Andrews. With driving distance and accuracy that are equivalent to Park and Matthew, Webb has not missed a cut in 2 years. She’s at #6 in the Rolex Rankings, she’s a consistent, steady, high caliber player who is cool under pressure, seems to play her best when she comes from behind, as she did last weekend when she fired 2 eagles in the final round to win the Ladies European Masters at Buckinghamshire. Webb has been in the UK for the past 2 weeks, letting her circadian rhythm adjust and getting reacquainted with local golfing conditions. She, too, is ready to match Park stroke-for-stroke at this quintessential contest.
The Women’s British Open was established in 1976 by the Ladies Golf Union and intended from the outset to mirror The Open championship. As the Women’s British Open grew and attracted more entries and sponsors, the tournament shifted from 2nd tier courses to the more prestigious and better-known links courses already in the rotation for The Open Championship, Turnberry, Royal Lyntham & St Anne’s, and St Andrews. In 1994 the Women’s British Open achieve international status when it became a permanent LPGA Tour event.
This is the 2nd playing of the Open at St Andrews. The tournament Pro-Am on Tuesday and a practice day on Wednesday will provide breathing space for the players and an opportunity to look deeper into the texture of the competition that will begin unfolding on Thursday.