Scotland’s Catriona Matthew looked typically cool, calm and collected on the eve of her title defence at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
The North Berwick 40-year-old is preparing to defend the title she won 12 months ago at nearby Royal Lytham & St Annes, just 11 weeks after giving birth to her second daughter and three weeks before her 40th birthday.
Matthew is one of 144 of the world’s best players returning to the outstanding challenge of Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England, for the first time since 2005 and she said: “I’ve been really looking forward to it all year. (It’s) nice to get here and finally get out on the golf course.
“The course is in great shape. As with any links course, it’s all down to the weather. It’s pretty windy out there today so the first two holes were certainly playing pretty tough.”
Renowned for its towering sand hills, Royal Birkdale is one of England’s most illustrious courses, having staged The Open Championship nine times in 1954, 1961, 1965, 1971, 1976, 1983, 1991, 1998 and 2008.
Royal Birkdale has hosted the Ricoh Women’s British Open an impressive five times, in 1982, 1986, 2000, 2005 and 2010, as well as The Amateur Championship (1946 and 1989), the Curtis Cup (1948), Walker Cup (1951) two Ryder Cups (1965 and 1969).
England’s Laura Davies won at Royal Birkdale back in 1986 in her second year as a professional, retaining the Ladies European Tour’s Order of Merit she won in her rookie season. Now in her 26th year on Tour, she is still leading the Ladies European Tour’s Henderson Money List after two victories this season in New Zealand and Germany.
She is still enamoured with the course and said: “There’s not a bad hole out there for a kickoff, and there’s not an easy shot.
“If you’re playing good golf you can get a really good score but if you’re slightly off, the bunkers are there, pretty severe rough, the gorse, so there’s plenty to keep you occupied for every single swing. So I think that’s why it’s obviously such a great championship.”
Davies still has the photographs of her 1986 victory on her bedroom wall, adding, “good memories.”
South Korean Jeong Jang won the title the last time it was played at Birkdale in 2005, following Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson in 2000.
There is a time line of 10 distinguished former champions in the field with Davies (1986), Helen Alfredsson (1990), Karen Lunn (1993), Karrie Webb (1995, 1997 and 2002), Sherri Steinhauer (1998, 1999, 2006), Sophie Gustafson (2000), Karen Stupples (2004), Jeong Jang (2005), Jiyai Shin (2008) and Matthew (2009).
However, this year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open has attracted its strongest ever field and there are a number of potential first time winners.
Matthew pointed to Norwegian Suzann Pettersen, Gustafson and recent US Women’s Open champion Paula Creamer and LPGA champion Cristie Kerr as likely contenders.
“I think it’s probably pretty wide open. I mean, obviously Suzann, Cristie, Paula, Sophie, always play well in the British. You can probably list 10 or 12 people that have a really good chance,” she said.
England’s Melissa Reid has reason to be confident after finishing in a tie for 19th at last week’s Evian Masters and following her maiden victory at the Turkish Airlines Ladies Open in May.
“I think if I stay patient and if my mind stays very, very calm, I think I can certainly compete with these girls and I feel like I can also beat them as well,” Reid said.
The weather will play its part and forecasts are for a mixture of sunshine and cloud on Thursday, with gusts of up to 25 miles per hour. Friday is predicted to be cloudy and breezy, while on Saturday, it could be sunny, windy with a few brief showers. Sunday’s final round is forecast to be variable with clouds and breezy with winds up to 18 miles per hour.
At a glance: Date: 29 July – 1 AugustLocation: Southport, Lancashire, England.Venue: Royal Birkdale Golf ClubPar: 35-37, 72Yardage: 6458Purse: US $2,500,000/ € 1,704,500/£1,550,000.First Prize: £261,493Format: 72 holes
Don’t miss a minute of the action with the BBC’s TV schedule. TV Times to note:
Thur 29 July BBC Two + BBC HD 2.00pm – 5.30pm Live Golf Fri 30 July BBC Two + BBC HD 2.00pm – 5.15pm Live Golf
Sat 31 July BBC One + BBC HD 2.30pm – 4.50pm Live Golf BBC Two + BBC HD 4.50pm – 5.45pm Live Golf
Sun 1 August BBC Two + BBC HD 3.00pm – 6.00pm Live Golf