Ricoh British Open review

This week Woburn hosts the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Could we see a strong challenge from the home nation’s golfers?

Here’s our guide to the week’s action:

Recent history

2015, Turnberry – Donald tried to Trump everything: flying over the course in a helicopter, forgetting to switch his phone to silent behind the first tee, holding an outrageous press conference during play. On the course unknown Korean Jin Young Ko almost pulled of a major coup, but was eventually caught and passed on the final day by Inbee Park’s final round 65.

2014, Royal Birkdale – A Mo-mentous week for the world number 99 Mo Martin. She led after 36 holes, but fell back on Saturday with a 77. No matter. Playing well ahead of the final group she eased her way round the course, as the challenge of others was blown away on the wind. Her second shot to the par-five 18th hole clattered into the pin. It didn’t drop for an albatross, but the eagle helped her set a target no-one could match.

2013, St Andrews – At the Home of Golf Inbee Park was on course for the Grand Slam, having won the year’s first three majors. Six holes into her first round she was under par and the 5/4 favourite; it was as close as she would come to glory. Stacy Lewis capitalised and broke a streak of 10 Asian-born winners of the majors.

Last Scottish winner: Catriona Matthew, 2009 – the last Brit to win and the first Scot to lift the trophy. She did so just 11 weeks after giving birth to her second child.

Last English winner: Karen Stupples, 2004 – probably the greatest start to the final round of a major ever. One shot behind she began eagle-albatross and never let the lead slip.

This year’s home challenge

For the best part of 15 years British golf was dependent on Matthew, Stupples and Laura Davies to fly the flag. The two, possibly three, generations after them failed to contend in the big ones.

But now British women’s golf has fresh hope. Charley Hull, in particular, has brought energy. She was T7 in the 2014 Ana Inspiration, the first major of the LPGA season, and T2 there this year. Two years ago she blitzed Birkdale with a third round 66 that had the galleries skipping over the dunes behind her.

She said afterwards that she played that round pretending the fairways were lined with the trees of her home course Woburn. No need for imagination this year – and those galleries will be even bigger as they roar for the 20-year-old.

Mel Reid has missed the cut in all three majors this season but had a first top ten last year at Turnberry (T9) and was superb last week in the International Crown. She will be buzzing and can expect big galleries to head down the M1 from the East Midlands.

Also keep an eye on: Holly Clyburn, Amy Boulden and Jodi Ewart Shadoff, plus 20-year-old Georgia Hall.

The leading contenders

(Defending champion Inbee park had to pull out with an on-going thumb injury.)

Lydia Ko (New Zealand) – 19 years old, the world number one, 14 LPGA titles to her name, two of them majors, the youngest double winner of majors since Young Tom Morris in 1869, winner of eight titles in her last 23 starts alone, not finished outside the top three in her last five major starts. Yeah, it’s safe to say she’s good. Struggled (relatively) in her first three starts in the RWBO (made the cut but never the top 15) until 3rd last year. The parkland track should suit.

Brooke Henderson (Canada) – 18 years old, the world number two, three LPGA titles to her name, one of them a major. Yeah, she’s also good. She actually claimed that major – this year’s LPGA Championship – when shooting a final round 65 before defeating Ko in a play-off. So she’s very good.

Lexi Thompson (USA) – 21 years old, the world number four, winner of seven LPGA titles, one of them a major. Yeah, only in the rarefied air of the Rolex Rankings top five could Lexi Thompson look like a middle-aged under-achiever. Tall and willowy, links golf has not seemed a good fit, although her grit and determination always has, so Woburn might allow British fans to witness her best.

Ariya Jutanugarn (Thailand) – The 20-year-old was a winner on the LET back in 2013 and her early forays on the LPGA hinted at a bright future until a bizarre injury, caused by a tumble in a practice round chasing her sister with a water bottle, led to time out, recuperation and a slow return to form. But this year she is a three-time winner and two-time top four finisher in the majors. A breakthrough win in the big ones is surely going to happen sooner rather than later and her aggressive style might be suited by the risk and reward elements of the layout.

The course

The Marquess course at Woburn GC also hosted last year’s European Tour’s British Masters. It’s a tree-lined parkland course with the signature hole, the par-five 7th, having a split fairway. The left-hand route is safer but longer, the right-hand route requires a drive long enough to allow the second shot to clear a huge chasm in front of the green. 

Plenty of holes can be attacked with aggressive lines from the tee. Trouble will await those who don’t execute those options correctly, but the rewards for those who do are great. If Thompson and Jutanugarn have a good week, it could suit them both.

The course has hosted Open Championship Final Qualifying for three years, always drawing big crowds. With home girl Hull playing large galleries are again expected.

Matt Cooper