CATRIONA MATTHEW headed off to pick up her two daughters from a ballet class after taking her first steps in a bid for a second Ladies Scottish Open title triumph in three years on her own doorstep.
The North Berwick woman opened with a one-under-par 71 in the Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event at Archerfield Links to have French leader Cassandra Kirkland in her sights.
Kirkland, a 28-year-old from Paris with Scottish roots, set the pace in the £180,000 event with a flawless four-under-par 68 as she cashed in on the more favourable morning conditions.
By the time Matthew, the only Solheim Cup star in the field, stepped on to the first tee on the Fidra Links, the wind had picked up considerably and the sky had become overcast.
“It was difficult out there, so I’m happy with that,” said Matthew of an opening effort that contained two birdies – at the second and 11th, both par-5s – and a solitary dropped shot at the seventh.
“It was probably a three-club wind,” she added, pointing to a “really good 4-iron” that was required from 160 yards at the 15th then a 3-wood at the par-3 17th to illustrate her point.
“I didn’t really hole much, but it was difficult to get the ball close in the conditions,” continued the world No.10. “I feel as though I am playing really well so we’ll see what happens over the weekend.”
Kirkland, who tied for tenth behind another Scot, Carly Booth, in this event last year, avoided a single slip-up as she set the pace by a shot from compatriot Lise-Anne Caudal, South African Lee-Anne Pace and England’s Trish Johnson.
“I’m hitting it really well and feel really confident with my long game,” said Kirkland. “I holed a couple of putts, not very many, but enough to pick up a few birdies and I had no bogeys which is always good.
“I play quite well most of the time here, usually top ten, top-15, so I think this golf course suits my game. I fact, I’ve had two holes-in-one on this course. Number 8 and number 17, though not the same year. And today I almost made it on 13, with an 8-iron.”
It was a changeable opening day on the East Lothian coast. In the afternoon, for instance, sheets of rain swept across the course one minute then, shortly afterwards, the sun was splitting the sky the next.
Also out in the morning, Musselburgh’s Vikki Laing had to settle for a two-over 74 – one more than defending champion Booth.
“It was a bit scrappy,” admitted the four-times Scottish Girls’ champion. “I played well on my front nine but struggled off the tee on my back nine and you can’t do that round here.
“I hit a couple of loose shots but I was able to hang in there, I suppose, and two-over certainly isn’t disastrous.”
Her playing partner, Heather MacRae, finished the opening day as the leading Scot after a two-under-par 70.
“It’s nice to have a steady start and there were a lot of good drives and good iron shots,” said the 29-year-old, who is attached to Gleneagles Hotel. “But I’ve just done my stats and I hit 16 greens, so there were a few putts out there, probably about 34.”
This is her first appearance of the year on the Ladies European Tour this year, having decided to focus on the second-tier Access Series. She won on that in Sweden earlier in the year and needs to climb from eighth into the top five on the Order of Merit to secure a card on the main Tour next season.
“My win was in May, but it still feels like a couple of weeks ago,” said MacRae. “I’ve been playing a lot recently which is good, and it’s great to focus on good stuff. This is going to be the only LET event I play this year, I’[ve just been playing Access Tour, which is good because I know I have 13 events that I’m going to play.
“That way, you don’t feel the same pressure when you have a season to play rather than just one or two events.
“Last year I played three LET, four Access and by the time midsummer came I hadn’t played well in any of them and spent a fortune. The plan this year was all Access and just this one, being at home.”
Former Scotland rugby captain Andy Nicol leads the team event on 13-under – two ahead of Alan Hansen with Gavin Hastings sitting on one-over.