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Jul 12

Ready for Sunday at Royal Birkdale

Almost Everyone Who Should Be Here  is Here

I watched the first round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open with interest, but not with too much anxiety. The first round seems to be the time in which eager, new players shine and make a play for the lead, or at least a top spot.

By the time the third round arrives, however, I take the entire body of work more seriously. On a course like Royal Birkdale, you’re not going to sit in a high spot from a series of flukes, and now we see the final round of Sunday, with many of the game’s brightest veterans in contention. These are the people who find a way, somehow, to be relevant on the weekend.royal 2

There is, of course, one notable exception. Michelle Wie’s under-par tanks ran out of gas, and after playing the 2014 tournament season with exquisite consistency, she picked the week of a major to have it all fall around her ears. I don’t believe for a second that her poor week in the UK is a signal of former troubles. There isn’t a player who hasn’t done this, and this time will certainly not be the last. Sometimes, golf just doesn’t treat you well, no matter what you do.

Round 4 will feature some expected leaders, with a few less anticipated. Inbee Park leads at four under. It had to happen sooner than later. She does this a lot. Suzann Pettersen, a stroke back, is a minor surprise. Recovery seemed just around the corner, and it seems as though she has at last, reached it. Shanshan Feng is tied at one back, and that should come as no surprise. Stacy Lewis sits at one under, three back. When Lewis is involved, a three-shot lead can evaporate in an instant, if the leader falters and lets her in – or, if she goes on a birdie binge and makes whatever the leader does irrelevant.

royal 3Just to keep things interesting, though, American Amelia Lewis has hung in at two under, with Paraguayan Julieta Grenada. One behind them is the already legendary Charley Hull, Amy Yang and Beatriz Recari, a winner on tour.

This year, it felt that the sifting process, whereby the best and brightest eventually find their way to the top, took a little longer. I was poised to write a lengthy essay on Mo Martin, only to find out she was, for all intents and purposes, gone, after playing so well. I believe that part of the sudden changes are due to the Royal Birkdale Course itself.

At various times, Royal Birkdale has been rated the best course in the UK by some. Established in 1899, it has hosted the Open for men and women ten or twelve times since 1954. Not having been updated in length to meet modern technology, it might not be the scariest example of course yardage around, but is absolutely evil in repaying mistakes.

Typical of such courses, you must first reach the fairway, then you must find it. An odd bounce here, or a borderline shot there, and you go from Easy Street to worst nightmare. The fairways aren’t all that wide, you find grass or rough with a capped “R”, and some of the pot-hole bunkers require a miner’s hat for entrance. As I see the birdie/bogie patterns on the scorecards, I don’t see anyone with one of those unmixed days. Everyone’s having trouble with Royal Birkdale – somewhere.royal 1

While I can’t imagine who’s going to win the Ricoh Women’s British Open, I’m glad to see the mix of familiar and new. As some American fans rooted for an American to win their open, the UK would, understandably, cheer for their native daughter, Charley Hull. Paraguay, China, Spain or Korea could all have good reason to cheer. That’s a lot of greatness at the top to out-birdie, though. Whatever happens, Royal Birkdale itself will have a lot to say about it.

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.