The 2021 AIG Women’s Open was a gripping watch from the outset, with much to admire across four days of thrilling action at Carnoustie.
Anna Nordqvist ultimately prevailed by a single stroke to claim her third major title, the Swede storming into contention on day three and holding her nerve thereafter.
We take a look at how a dramatic Championship unfolded.
DAY ONE – KORDA SETS THE PACE
Nelly Korda dominated column inches going into the Championship, with no shortage of intrigue around how the world number one would navigate the links just a matter of weeks after winning Olympic gold in the searing Tokyo heat.
The world number one acclimatised instantly, making light of the testing run-in to record birdies on 17 and 18 to complete a five-under round of 67 which gave her a share of the overnight lead.
Sei Young Kim and Madelene Sagstrom joined the American at the summit after impressive rounds of their own while Andrea Lee and Yuka Saso finished just a shot off the pace.
Also on -4 were two British hopefuls who were spurring each other on as part of the same playing trio.
Englishwoman Georgia Hall, Champion in 2018, and Scottish amateur Louise Duncan both signed for 68s as the latter enjoyed a dream debut which has only gone from strength to strength since.
Duncan’s compatriot Kelsey MacDonald had the honour of getting the Championship underway while another Scot, Paul Drummond, entered the limelight as his local knowledge proved crucial for Lexi Thompson.
The American finished -3 and gave much of the credit to her caddie, a car salesman who knows the famous old course like the back of his hand.
DAY TWO – HALL AND HARIGAE HIT THE FRONT
Friday proved another calm day at Carnoustie and Hall took full advantage, with another consistent round seeing the 25-year-old enter the weekend with a share of the lead.
Hall’s group again proved one to watch. Duncan did not quite match her opening-day heights – though a 73 kept her in contention – but Megan Khang was on fire, knocking 11 shots off Thursday’s 77 to make the cut with something to spare and record the best individual score of the first two days.
A super 67 from Mina Harigae saw the American join Hall in a share of the lead at -7 while Kim and Lizette Salas were just a shot adrift.
Leona Maguire and Moriya Jutanugarn entered the conversation in style, going round in five under, though Korda reflected on ‘a little punch of reality’ after a 73 saw her slip to -4.
Elsewhere there was disappointment for Sophia Popov, who saw her defence of the trophy end two days earlier than planned.
The German, who swept all before her with an inspiring triumph at Royal Troon last year, double-bogeyed the last to finish +3 and miss the cut.
Dame Laura Davies successfully made it through to the weekend, however, as the 57-year-old shot a two-under 70 on Friday to continue her participation in the Championship 35 years on from lifting it.
DAY THREE – SCANDINAVIAN PAIR SHINE
Saturday is moving day and at times it became hard to keep up as challengers came and went, the leaderboard changing with thrilling regularity throughout the afternoon.
The end result was two Scandinavian stars, Sweden’s Nordqvist and Denmark’s Nanna Koerstz Madsen, finishing with a share of the lead on -9 and ensuring they would make up the final pairing on Sunday.
Nordqvist was particularly impressive, with seven birdies in a bogey-free round of 65 – the best of the Championship – to power her way into contention for a third major.
Koerstz Madsen eagled the 12th to move to nine-under and stayed there amid a wobble from her playing partner Yealimi Noh, who sat on -10 at the 16th tee but dropped four shots on the final three holes and paid an unwanted visit to the Barry Burn on 18.
Such a finish only served as a reminder that nothing is guaranteed until the final putt at the 18th on this golf course and many within striking distance would have fancied their chances heading into the final day.
Among them, remarkably, was Duncan, who was in inspired form on Saturday. Long birdie putts at 15 and 18 were greeted with roars which echoed around Carnoustie and the 21-year-old was just two shots off the pace going into day four.
Thompson, Sagstrom and Sanna Nuutinen joined her on -7, with Salas a shot better off, while the seven players on -6 included Korda and Hall among five major winners.
DAY FOUR – NORDQVIST PREVAILS IN THRILLING FINALE
Half an hour after the leading pair had teed off in Sunday’s final round, there was a six-way tie for the lead at -9.
At that point it was virtually impossible to predict who would come out on top and the Championship remained too close to call right up until Nordqvist and Koerstz Madsen reached the final green.
Two Australians initially stole the limelight, with Steph Kyriacou – who sensationally recovered from +4 in the second round with a back-nine 30 – and Minjee Lee coming from six and five shots back respectively to share top spot.
Yet both suffered at the 18th, with Kyriacou carding a double-bogey to slip back to -6 and Lee making bogey to fall to -10 despite an incredible stroke of fortune that saw her ball bounce in and out of the Barry Burn.
Lee’s superb 66 still set a challenging clubhouse target, but Hall, who made two eagles on the final day, Salas and Sagstrom all went one better by posting 11-under aggregates of 277.
Sagstrom shared the lead at -12 with one hole to play following a magnificent birdie on the difficult 17th, but she then found sand off the tee at the last and finished with a bogey.
That left Nordqvist and Koerstz Madsen alone at -12 as the final pair came to one of the most iconic holes in golf, Carnoustie’s 18th.
Koerstz Madsen, who had briefly reached -13 over the closing stretch, joined Kyriacou, Lee and Sagstrom in enduring a painful finish to the Championship. The Dane’s final approach shot flared out to the right and she would ultimately take four more shots as a double-bogey saw her finish in a tie for fifth on -10.
There were no such problems for Nordqvist, however, as the Swede held her nerve superbly to secure her third major title. After finding the green with her second shot, she came within an inch of holing her birdie putt, but it mattered little as a par ensured she finished one clear of Hall, Salas and Sagstrom.
Nordqvist was joined at the trophy presentation by the breakout star of the week in Duncan, whose closing 72 not only confirmed her as the winner of the Smyth Salver but also earned a top-10 finish for the Women’s Amateur Champion.