North Berwick’s Catriona Matthew carries out a familiar role over the next four days at Royal Birkdale as the leading home challenger in the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
The winner at Royal Lytham and St Annes five years ago, a second major remains one of the 44-year-old star’s main priorities.
“The course is in fantastic shape, a little softer and greener than the last couple of times we have been here,” assessed Matthew following her practice round.
For the first time in many years, Matthew will have a different caddy on the bag for the Women’s Open. Husband Graeme is in Southport but will be looking after the couple’s two children, Katie and Sophie, while his wife treads the fairways alongside American Verners Tess.
She is very grateful that he is willing to carry out the parenting duties while she continues to globe trot in her 21st season in the competitive world of professional golf.
“Graeme has been so supportive,” she said. “You couldn’t do this job without a great family network. I’m still enjoying it, and that’s because I’m playing well.”
Matthew tends to play in blocks on the Tour and, following this week, she is looking forward to a three-week break with Graeme and the girls. With two third places and top 11 finishes in both the majors, the world No.15 deserves to be taken seriously.
Stacy Lewis, the American who defends the title she won at St Andrews last year, certainly has huge respect for Scotland’s finest ever female professional.
“I have great admiration for Catriona,” said the 29-year-old world No.1 “She continues to impress. How long she’s played and she continues to get better. She’s raised a family and had such a successful career. It’s really impressive.”
Lewis and the other two American major winners this season, Lexi Thompson (Kraft Nabisco Championship) and Michelle Wie (US Women’s Open), are among the favourites along with 17-year-old New Zealand sensation, Lydia Ko.
Top amateur at the Women’s Open for the past two years, don’t be surprised if the world No.2 is handed the £277,887 winner’s cheque on Sunday.
There are another three Scots in the draw – Vikki Laing, Kylie Walker and Sally Watson.
Muselburgh’s Laing is having a good season on the Ladies’ European Tour and is 16th on the Order of Merit. Walker won her first event in the Netherlands in May and is 13th on the list.
Laing tied for sixth in the ISPS Handa Ladies’ European Masters at The Buckinghamshire on Sunday and is having one of her most consistent seasons on Tour.
Watson, who will celebrate her 23rd birthday tomorrow, finished in the top 20 at The Buckinghamshire to earn her spot this week and is leading the LET’s Rookie of the Year race.
The former Scottish Girls’ Champion and two-time Curtis Cup player from South Queensferry, Watson played in the Women’s Open as a 16-year-old at St Andrews in 2007 and successfully made the cut.
Seven years on and now a graduate of Stanford University in California – an honour she shares with Wie – Watson is ready to prove she can match the world’s best.
For Lewis, the goal is to stage a successful defence and collect her third major
“It’s strange defending over a new course and Birkdale is very different from St Andrews,” said the 29-year-old.
“The rough is really deep. If you miss the fairway it really will be a case of having to chip out.”