This is the first time that Kingsbarns has held the Women’s British Open and it looks a wide-open affair. Mark Townsend looks ahead to some of the big storylines going into the biggest week on the UK calendar…
No longer a case of the big two
The last time the Women’s British Open visited this part of the world, at St Andrews in 2013, Inbee Park was attempting to win a fourth straight major.
Now, 20 majors on, we arrive at Kingsbarns for the first time in the club’s brief history with 16 different winners in the interim period. On the LPGA Tour this year we have had 19 different women performing the now traditional winning selfie in 21 starts – only the World No. 1 So Yeon Ryu and IK Kim have prevailed twice.
Park was supposedly going to dominate everything, to be fair the Korean has won four times, including an Olympic gold medal, since St Andrews but is now down to 10th in the world.
Lydia Ko, winner of back-to-back majors in 2015-16 and 14 times on the LPGA Tour by the time she was 20, looked like she might never be overtaken at the top of the tree. She is now fifth.
The New Zealander has now not won for over a year.
Where is the clever money going?
As for the bookies they have new World No 2 Lexi Thompson as the favourite, with So Yeon Ryu next in the running. Ko, incredibly, is available at 40-1.
Thompson’s season could have been very different – the American went from two shots ahead to two in arrears in the short walk from the 12th green to the 13th tee at the ANA after that four-shot penalty and went on to lose a play-off to Ryu – but bounced back the following month with a victory at the Kingsmill.
All of which pales into insignificance given that her mum is battling uterine cancer.
The Solheim race is nearly run
The Women’s British Open is the last counting event towards the Solheim Cup with the captains naming their sides on Sunday night at Kingsbarns – Juli Inkster has two picks, Annika Sorenstam four.
Players finishing inside the top 20 receive double points this week so there could well be some big moves over the weekend particularly given the limited schedule on the LET this year.
Europe’s superstar Anna Nordqvist, our only top-20 player, will need a pick as she has failed to play in the necessary six ranking events. The pick is a given but her state of health is a different matter.
The Swede is in Scotland and intends to play but she has been battling glandular fever since the US Open and, while she has felt better since stopping all training, it doesn’t look great for the Solheim in a couple of weeks.
What chance a defending champion?
Statistically speaking not very, only Yani Tseng has won back to back since the Women’s British Open became a major in 2001.
This year Ariya Jutanugarn will be hoping to buck that trend after becoming the first Thai player to land a big one. The 21-year-old enjoyed an incredible major campaign in 2016, her worst finish in five starts being 17th at the US Open, but this term she has missed her last two major cuts.
Her major links experience – her win last year came at the parkland Woburn – shows up a missed cut at Turnberry and a lowly finish at Birkdale. She played four rounds last week at Dundonald but never threatened and it would take something quite special for Jutanugarn to double up.
As for the no-driver policy that Jutanugarn employs that will continue. The big dog will stay in the locker and the 3-wood or 2-iron will her clubs of choice off the tee.
Davies back again, as is Creamer
But they had to come through qualifying at the nearby Castle Course. This will now be Dame Laura Davies’ 37th straight start in the championship and the 53-year-old made it through after coming through extra holes. Fourteen players played off for 11 places and Davies, who shot 70 earlier in the day, advanced with a par at the first hole.
“I’ve played in the last 36 Opens and have never had to qualify,” Davies said. “So, this is a new experience. I don’t like it very much.”
Creamer’s path was a little smoother as she finished with a 68 to take second spot.
“My caddie and I worked really hard, because it was the first time I had ever seen it. I teed off at 7.22am, so I couldn’t do much preparation. After I played at Dundonald, I came out and hit some putts and walked the last three or four holes. It’s an awesome little gem.”
English amateur Sophie Lamb also progressed.
What about Charley?
We are now eight years away from a British major winner in the ladies’ game, Catriona Matthew getting the job done at Lytham.
Impressively this is 21-year-old Charley Hull’s sixth start in the Open and the last three starts give some cause for optimism.
When Charley won the Tour Championship at the end of 2016 we all licked our lips at the prospect of more wins. But her 2017 season has been steady more than spectacular though she is hopeful that things are coming around.
She said in her BBC Sport column: “I’m really happy with the way I’m playing at the moment. I’ve been working hard on my swing as I’ve been hitting the ball a little bit right. Sometimes I just overthink things, so recently I’ve been making sure I’ve not been doing this and I’m playing better. It was a bit of a mental thing, but I’ve got it out of my head now.
“I go into every event thinking I can win, and this one is no different. I think the top 20 players in the world all have a chance of winning but I don’t think about them. I just concentrate on my game and at the moment I’m playing well.”
If you’ve been lucky enough to play Kingsbarns then you might be thrown by the numbering of the holes.
For logistical reasons the normal 1st will play as the closing hole so, if you are getting confused, simply take one off the hole you are watching on TV.
So the players will get their round going with a longish par 3. Nice.