Ricoh British Open: The top 7

Matt Cooper looks at seven players from across the world whose fortunes will be worth following at Carnoustie this week.

The Ricoh Women’s British Open makes its first ever visit to Carnoustie this week. Matt Cooper takes a look at six players whose progress will be worth watching (three from the LPGA and three from the LET) and also takes a quick glance at the other likely contenders for the final major of the year in the ladies game.
Yani Tseng (Taiwan) – the defending champion: Post-Lorena Ochoa the world number one spot has been a disputed position, but no more: Tseng is a proper world number one; she is consistent, she wins a lot and, most importantly of all, she knows how to win the big ones (majors) too.
Since and including her victory in this event last year, her form has been magnificent. In that time she has won seven times in 24 starts. At the age of 22 she is the youngest winner (male or female) of four major titles. Proof of her long game quality comes in this stat: in the last nine events where stats were recorded, she ranked first or second in the field for Greens in Regulation on five occasions and only once worse than seventh.
Tellingly, she plays smart golf when necessary. She is a big hitter – in her last 25 starts she has only once been ranked outside the top seven for Driving Distance. And where was the exception? It was at Royal Birkdale this time last year when she placed solid ball striking ahead of a power game, a strategy that led to victory. Will Carnoustie suit? Well, if ball-striking counts (and most seem to think it will) then Tseng could hardly be a better fit.
Suzann Pettersen (Norway) – the grinder: Ranked third in the world, on a run of 24 consecutive top 25 finishes, a 12-time winner worldwide and the owner of an impressive winning record in the matches, Pettersen’s presence in the Solheim Cup is a given.
Quite how she was going to be selected was a bit of a moot point however. Needing to play in six LET events to not require a captain’s pick, this week is her fifth start and she was slated to play no more until the recent cancellation of next week’s LPGA China event allowed her to enter the Irish Open. In so doing she will qualify automatically. “I wanted to help Alison Nicholas, our captain, out,” she explained, when making a quick visit to the Open at Sandwich.
Pettersen also revealed that she had not yet visited Carnoustie. “But I’ve obviously seen it on TV and I’ve been researching at it on the internet,” she laughed. “I can’t wait to get there and see what challenge we will face.”
She has won on links – the 2008 Irish Open at Portmarnock – and yet her Ricoh Women’s British Open record is not the strongest. Her best finish is tied 14th (in nine attempts) which contrasts markedly with her record in the US-based majors where she has one win and another seven top six finishes in her last 15 starts.
Paula Creamer (USA) – McPink Panther: This will be the 24-year-old American’s seventh start in the British Open and she is yet to finish outside the top 25, with a best finish of third at Royal Lytham in 2009. With a British coach and British caddie she gets a double insight on the annual challenge on these shores – they treat her to local cuisine off the course and links golf know-how on it.
This year she even prepared for the event with a few rounds on linksy, seaside courses in her native California and then spent the weekend before Evian at Carnoustie itself. She was impressed.
“There is nothing tricked up about it,” she said. “What you see is what you get. There is nothing hidden and there are no wacky bounces. I was a little surprised by the greens – they are long and narrow.
“I think you need to be a straight-driver, but the fairways are not too severe and you can advance the ball from the rough. There are some bunkers you don’t want to find, but in general they are not the toughest to escape.
“I think the greens could be a big factor. There’s not a lot of break in them – whoever trusts their read and goes for it could do well. The weather always plays a big part too in the UK – you might need the luck of the draw.”
Caroline Hedwall (Sweden) – the rookie: Hedwall’s quality was never in doubt. Prior to turning pro at the end of last year she had played four regular LET events as an amateur and never once finished worse than 13th. She was also the top amateur at last year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open and won on her first pro start in the New South Wales Open.
Thereafter her year got stuck a little until, in late May, something clicked. “I found my putting stroke,” she said at Celtic Manor, for the inaugural PowerPlay event. “Once that happened, I felt more in control.”
With that putting stroke came a remarkable run of success. She won the Slovakian Open on Sunday, then the next day (at PowerPlay) she beat an elite field of both men and women, and ended the week with a runners-up finish in Holland. She has since finished seventh in Switzerland, won in Finland and then recovered from a poor start in Evian to actually threaten the lead on the front nine of the final round.
One thing is clear – Hedwall understands links golf (she was a runner-up in the 2008 British Amateur) and she possesses a controlled long game. Her 2011 Greens in Regulation average of 82% is the best figure across every professional tour in world golf and she has averaged more than 90% in four of her last six starts.
Becky Brewerton (Wales) – the dragon’s new clothes: It’s been quite a few months for Brewerton. In the middle of May – and in the middle of a run of seven tournaments – she picked up a foot injury that threatened to derail her season. But she battled on, keen to promote her challenge for a third Solheim Cup appearance and aware that her form was too promising to waste.
That tenacity and quality of golf was rewarded in Tenerife when she not only won a third professional title, but defeated the legendary Laura Davies in a matchplay tie of high intensity. It was testimony, too, to the power of her partnership with Poodle, the golf fashion brand.
Reflecting on her win the week afterwards, Brewerton said, on her website Podcast, “Wearing Poodle has changed the way I am and the way I feel on the course. I feel great and really enjoyed receiving positive comments from me fellow pros.” She has also appreciated the on-course support from Poodle, who have become an integral part of her team.
That squad also includes Falkirk-based coach Stewart Craig, with whom she recently visited Carnoustie. The conditions were appalling – the course was nearly flooded – but playing the course in adverse conditions might pay off in the long run.
Brewerton has added her 2-iron to the bag for the challenge ahead and, having been brought up on the links courses of North Wales, is well attuned to the need to hit low punch shots. Her short game has improved this year, too, which, allied to her quality ball-striking, makes her a more rounded contender in Europe’s premier event.
Christel Boeljon (The Netherlands) – the future’s orange