CATRIONA MATTHEW will have to beat a player on the brink of history to win a second Ricoh Women’s British Open at St Andrews this weekend.
Matthew, the 2009 winner, is the home favourite heading into the event’s second staging on the Old Course after Lorena Ochoa’s historic victory there in 2007.
But the eyes of the golfing world for the next few days will be on Korean Inbee Park as she bids to become the first golfer, male or female, to win four professional majors in the same year.
The 25-year-old from Seoul has amassed a remarkable six victories already in 2013, claiming the second major of her career when she won the Kraft Nabisco title in April.
She then overcame Matthew in a play-off to win the LPGA Championship before a four-stroke victory in the US Open.
Just as Ochoa did, Park has arrived at the “Home of Golf” as the undisputed world No. 1 and where better to secure a place in the record books?
But it’s certainly not a foregone conclusion and Matthew is among those capable of ripping up the script in the Auld Grey Toun.
The mum of two, from North Berwick, will draw confidence from her magnificent win in this event at Royal Lytham four years ago.
Just 11 weeks after giving birth to her second daughter, Matthew triumphed by three shots over Aussie ace Karrie Webb in Lancashire.
She’s recorded two top-ten finishes in the event since then – tying for fifth at Carnoustie in 2011 then sharing tenth at Hoylake last year.
And, at 43, Matthew is probably in the form of her life, quite a feat given the consistency she has shown over the past 20 years.
As well as coming close to foiling Park in the LPGA Championship, she recently finished third in a low-scoring LPGA Classic.
And, having tied for seventh in the Kraft Nabisco before a top-15 finish in the US Women’s Open, it’s no wonder the Scottish No. 1 is licking her lips about this week’s home major.
“Having come so close to a second major in the LPGA Championship earlier in the season, I am now looking forward to St Andrews more than ever as I know my game is in good shape,” admitted Matthew.
“As a proud Scot there is no place I would rather win than at the Old Course playing in front of my home fans and I will be doing everything I can to ensure I am ready for the week.”
Until Monday night, Matthew was the sole Scot in the field but has now been joined by Carly Booth.
The Scottish Ladies’ Open champion survived a play-off to book her spot through the qualifier at Kingsbarns.
But, while the two Scots can expect plenty of home support, the main focus on the Fife coast is undoubtedly going to be on Park.
Only Mickey Wright (1961-62) and Tiger Woods (2000-2001) have won four consecutive professional majors, though not in one calendar year.
Babe Zaharias, meanwhile, is the only other player to win the first three majors in the women’s season, accomplishing the feat in 1950 when she won the Titleholders Championship, the Western Open and the US Open.
“Not many golfers get that kind of opportunity, winning three majors and going for a calendar Grand Slam in a British Open,” said Park.
“And at such a great golf course and such a historical golf course, I think I’m just very lucky to have that kind of opportunity. I think I should be very appreciative where I’m positioned.
“I loved playing in the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St Andrews in 2007. It was amazing to play the most famous course in the world in such an important tournament so I’m happy to be back.
“I remember I felt really comfortable playing the Old Course and finished just outside the top ten. I have had a lot more experience playing links golf since then so I am very excited to see what happens this week.”
Amongst those rooting for her will be former world No. 1 Annika Sorenstam.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than that,” said the Swede of winning four majors in a season.
“Nobody, male or female, has won four professional majors in a row in the same season and this would be one of the biggest feats in golf history.
“The fact that it could be done at St Andrews and the home of golf would make it that much more special.”
As well as being a major, the event is also the last chance for players to make the European and US teams for next month’s Solheim Cup in Colorado.
Lying third in the points table, Matthew has already secured her place in the biennial event.