Scotland’s Catriona Matthew rolled back the years on the links, but it is American Amy Olson who leads after the opening round of the AIG Women’s Open.
At a blustery Royal Troon, with gusts that rose to 40mph on occasions, Olson emerged late in the day to reach four under par with an excellent 67 at the first women’s major of the year.
Olson carded five birdies and just one dropped shot in a fine display of links golf. The 28-year-old, who has posted two top-10 finishes in majors, holds a three-stroke lead over fellow American Marina Alex and Germany’s Sophia Popov.
After bogeying the third, Olson kickstarted her round with birdies at the fourth and sixth, no mean feat with the first seven holes playing directly into the strong winds.
As conditions eased slightly in the early evening, Olson then completed a faultless back nine, capitalising on excellent ball-striking to record further birdies at the 11th, 14th and 16th.
“That was the best ball-striking day of my life,” said the leader. “I kept the trajectory on every shot what I wanted."
World number 28 Alex, who tied ninth at the AIG Women’s Open in 2014, recovered from a double-bogey at the sixth for her 70. Popov, 27, qualified for the championship through the Marathon Classic just two weeks ago, tied second on the Symetra Tour in Arizona last week and only arrived in Scotland on Tuesday. Two birdies in her last three holes propelled her into a share of second with Alex at one under.
The 2009 champion, Matthew, is in a large group of players on even par after three birdies in her closing four holes.
Well versed to testing links conditions at her North Berwick home, Matthew shrugged off indifferent form to thrive with a new putting grip and lead home hopes. It was impressive from the 50-year-old, given she last played Royal Troon competitively as an amateur in 1994.
From the first group of the day, Canadian Alena Sharp also finished on even par. With a grandmother and an uncle born in Scotland, the 39-year-old drew on her heritage in pursuit of a first major title.
Helped by an eagle at the par-5 16th, world number four Nelly Korda battled hard for a one-over-par 72, the same total as New Zealand’s Lydia Ko. American Lizette Salas and the 2018 Women’s Open champion Georgia Hall are a shot further back after 73s.
Danielle Kang carded a five-over 76, although that represented a stunning recovery given she was nine over with three to play. Kang, the world number two, finished eagle, birdie, birdie to make up significant ground.
Dame Laura Davies, having struck the opening tee shot to mark her 40th appearance in the event, slipped to a nine-over-par 80, but did manage five birdies. Other leading names also found the Ayrshire links a stiff test in the high winds, with 2013 champion Stacy Lewis and England’s Charley Hull among those to post 76s. Lexi Thompson (78), Bronte Law (80), Carly Booth (80) and Celine Boutier (81) also struggled.