Minjee uses last-hole heartbreak at Gullane as a positive

Catriona Matthew enjoyed the back nine and came home in 34 shots at Royal Lytham
Catriona Matthew enjoyed the back nine and came home in 34 shots at Royal Lytham
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Aussie ace Minjee Lee bounced back from her Gullane grief to grab the lead after the opening round of the $3.25 million Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham.

The 22-year-old from Perth missed a three-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole to force a play-off with Thai star Ariya Jutanugarn in the Ladies Scottish Open at the East Lothian venue last Sunday.

But she shrugged off that disappointment to card a 
seven-under-par 65 to get off to a brilliant start in the fourth women’s major of the season on the Lancashire coast. It was an effort that impressed one of her playing partners, Catriona Matthew, the winner when the event was last held here in 2009.

“Minjee played really well,” said the North Berwick woman after making a decent start 
herself with a one-under-par 71.

“I think she only missed one green and she holed a ton of putts. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone hole so many 
20-30 footers.”

World No.8 Lee has won twice this season, beating Melrose-born Karis Davidson into second place in the Oates Vic Open on home soil before adding the LPGA Volvik Championship.

On a day when the afternoon starters enjoyed the best of the conditions following a wet start, Lee birdied the fourth, sixth and eighth to be out in 32.

She then followed birdies at the tenth and 13th by rolling in long eagle putt at the par-5 15th, moved to eight-under with a birdie at the next before dropping her only shot of the day at the penultimate hole.

“The key today was keeping it in play,” said Lee of how she mastered a course that has 167 bunkers – and that’s after 37 were taken out in recent years. “I also holed some long putts and that really helped.

“Playing at Gullane last week definitely helped me coming into this week. The two courses are different in terms of terrain, but getting the feel of hitting shots on harder ground than we are used to was definitely good.”

On that finish in the Ladies Scottish Open, she added: 
“You can’t win every week and I took the positives out of that, as I always try to do.”

Lee leads by a shot from Japan’s Mamiko Higa, with England’s Georgia Hall and Sung Hung Park of Korea both a stroke further back.

Hall finished third behind Korea’s IK Kim at Kingsbarns 12 months ago and the 
22-year-old from Bournemouth was delighted with her bogey-free start this time around.

“I played very steady and my putting was really good,” she said. “I have a lot of confidence from last year and my first tee shot I knocked it to a foot.

“This golf course is really, really tough, and to play the round bogey free I’m really happy.”

Matthew, who missed the cut at Gullane, was two-over early on but put a smile back on her face by coming home in three-under 34.

“That was very nice at the last,” she said of getting up and down from around 100 yards to save par. “I played well on the back nine. I was just a bit quick with my wing on the tee at the last and pulled it.

“It was one of those ‘will I go for it or won’t I’ from the left rough and I thought it was easier to lay up and give myself a chance of making par. I made a nice birdie at the 17th, holing about a 20-footer. It was nice out there today. You do remember the odd shot from 2009 and hopefully I can keep remembering a few more good ones.

“I’ve been playing well. I’ve just been throwing in these awful days every so often. Hopefully I’m not going to have one of those tomorrow.

“I hit it well today. You can’t score well round here if you don’t play decent golf.”

Kylie Henry, the only other Scot in the field, took a 7 at the last as she had to settle for a 78.