Scotland’s World No. 10 Catriona Matthew has returned to The Old Course in St Andrews this week with her sights set firmly on winning the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
The 43-year-old from North Berwick became the first Scottish woman to win a major championship four years ago when she won the title at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, just 11 weeks after the arrival of her second child.
She was the fourth British woman to win a major, after Alison Nicholas (1997 US Women’s Open), Laura Davies (1987 US Women's Open, 1994 and 1996 LPGA Championship and 1996 Du Maurier Classic) and Karen Stupples (2004 Women’s British Open).
When the Ricoh Women’s British Open was played on The Old Course for the first time in 2007, Matthew finished in a tie for seventh, with a third-round 80 effectively ending her hopes of earning a second major championship that week.
However, she has played on The Old Course 30-40 times, with a remarkable recent links record.
She enjoyed a pair of top 10 finishes at the last two Women’s British Opens, with a tie for 5th in 2011 at Carnoustie and a tie for 10th last year at Royal Liverpool.
She has also had three strong results in this year’s majors with a second at the LPGA Championship, a tie for seventh at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and tied 15th at the US Women’s Open.
The fourth major of the season will be particularly special and husband, Graeme, will be back on caddie duties.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Matthew. “Nice to be back at St. Andrews; always one of my courses to come and play since amateur days.” (She played in the St Rule Trophy eight to ten times).
“We get a buzz no matter when you are playing, coming up one and up 18, so excited about the week.
“I think it's just the vibe of the place. I don't think it matters when you come to play it, whether it's January or July, there's always people around 18, and I think one and 18 are just always how you pictured them on television and it's great fun to play here.”
“There's obviously added pressure of playing at home, and obviously you want to do well. Obviously putting pressure on myself to do well in front of the home fans, but you don't often get an opportunity to play at home and so you've just got to try to enjoy it the few times I do manage to play in Scotland.”
Matthew believes that World No.1 Inbee Park will be the woman to beat as the South Korean is trying to achieve an unprecedented feat by winning the fourth straight professional major championship in a calendar year.
“I mean, obviously to win, for me personally to win at Scotland and at St. Andrews and to beat Inbee, yeah, would be a big deal. When I won the British the last time, I just had Sophie, my second child, so that was quite a big deal, so maybe I need the big occasion to win,” Matthew said.
When asked if it would be a daunting task, she replied: “I wouldn't say it's daunting. Obviously for women's golf, if she won it would be an amazing story and the media would be kind of all over it. So for women's golf, it would be fantastic if she won but obviously we are going to be out there trying to stop her. I think a lot will just come down to the last few holes on Sunday and hopefully you're in the position; and if she's there, she's there, and if she's not, she's not.
“But the way she's playing, I would think she's going to have a chance. Obviously she's the one to beat this week. If you can beat her, you're going to be in there with having a chance to win it.”
When asked how she would rate the achievement of winning four consecutive Majors, she said: “Oh, it would be unbelievable. Well, Tiger did it but not in a calendar year, and to do it in a calendar year would be a phenomenal feat, one of those feats you would think maybe could never be repeated. But there always seems to be someone who comes along who defies the record books.
“It's always difficult to compare different players from maybe different eras. But Annika was a fantastic ball‑striker. I think if she putted as well as Inbee or Lorena did, she really would have been unbeatable, and she just about was unbeatable. But putting was probably her weakest part of her game.
“Inbee and Lorena's putting is probably the strongest part of their game. It's not that they hit the ball badly or anything, but it's all relative when you're No. 1. I would say Inbee's putting this year has been phenomenal.”
As for her own game, Matthew said that she is still improving on all aspects to keep pace, as the standard on Tour improves each year.
“I would have said I'm a pretty good driver of the golf ball. Putting tends to be perhaps a little bit streaky,” she said. “So I was working on my short game and I think that's always somewhere where I can improve on, so short game and putting is usually where I'm trying to work the most.
“Anyone, you just watch golf every week, it's the person who holes putts in the end. When you get to the standard where everyone is capable of hitting the ball, it's who makes an up‑and‑down at the right time or who holes a putt for birdie or to save par is always usually the person who makes a good save or putts well this week that wins.”
Matthew and Carly Booth, who qualified by clinching a play-off at Kingsbarns on Monday, are the only two Scottish players in the championship, however there are 18 British competitors in total the field of 144, including three British amateurs: Sarah-Jane Boyd, Georgia Hall and Amy Boulden.