AIG Women's Open
Packed, star-studded board promises theatrical finish at Carnoustie
Anna Nordqvist reacts at the 15th green during the third round of the Women's Open.
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland—Latest estimates put the population of Carnoustie at just under 14,000 people. So it’s not that crowded, unlike the AIG Women’s Open leader board after 54 holes of play over the little Angus town’s world-famous links. Anna Nordqvist and Nanna Koerstz Madsen lead the way on nine under par, but as many as 15 players are within four shots of the Scandinavian pair. It’s a chasing group that contains six major champions, one of which happens to the World No. 1 and and the Olympic gold medalist, Nelly Korda is three back.
Nordqvist it was who made the most significant move of the day. Cheered on by a large crowd of family and friends (the Swede is married to local man, Kevin McAlpine, who caddies for fellow Scot Martin Laird on the PGA Tour). The six-time Solheim Cup player went round in a bogey-free, seven-under-par 65. The low score of the week so far propelled Nordqvist upward from 23rd to first.
“I've been playing really solid this week—and last week at the Scottish Open I also hit the ball really well,” said the 34-year- old. “My game has been coming together for a while. Today I was just very steady. I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens, which gave me a lot of good chances. That was the difference between today and the first two rounds. And of course, I made a few good putts out there. I had to stay patient around the turn though. I had good chances on 9, 10, 12 and 13—all inside like 12 feet—but didn’t make any of them. I’m very happy with my round, though, especially finishing with birdies on 15 and 17.”
Almost as pleased was Lexi Thompson. The statuesque American is two shots off the pace on seven under par, after a third round 70. That was a good effort in conditions that gradually deteriorated over the course over the day. Those at the back end of the field suffered most, Thompson included.
“We got the first nine in great weather, not too much wind,” she said. “The rain coming in was unfortunate, but you expect that over here. It is such a demanding golf course in general. You have to trust your lines and your shots. Putting weather into play makes it even more difficult. You just have to stay in the moment and focus on one shot at a time. I was looking away from leader boards. I've been trying to focus on myself, my game and my emotions. That’s all I can control and whatever happens, happens.”
One shot back of Thompson, Brooke Henderson finished perhaps the most downcast of the leading group. (Along with American Yealimi Noh, who shot four over in the last three holes.) Two shots got away from the Canadian over Carnoustie’s demanding finishing stretch, a fate she greeted philosophically. Because it could have been worse. Amidst her bogeys on 15 and 17, Henderson saved par with nifty chips on both 16 and 18.
“I did a lot of good things today which is really nice,” she said. “The closing holes are definitely the toughest holes out here, especially when it starts raining. It got a little bit trickier then. But I'm happy how I played today and how I battled coming in.”
A similar air of satisfaction surrounded Lizette Salas, runner-up to Korda in June’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. On eight under par, the 32-year-old American is the leading pair’s nearest challenger after a 70 that saw her make nine pars and four birdies in her last 13 holes—in the worst of the weather.
“You have to mentally prepare for conditions like this,” she acknowledged. “It really forced me to go back to boring golf instead of trying to be aggressive in order to make a move. The wet conditions really kind of settled everything for me. I did get off to a really shaky start. After five holes I was a couple over and struggling. But the momentum switched. I was able to hit really good shots coming down the stretch to give myself good looks.
“We've got a big event in two weeks [the Solheim Cup], but at the same time I do want to win this tournament,” she continued. “I’m really trying to check myself whenever I get down. We’re all going to hit bad shots this week. It’s how I can recover from that by thinking more positively. Battling in the final group with Nelly at the KPMG, I learned a lot. That experience is going to help me stay calm and be patient tomorrow. This is a whole new ballgame and a whole new challenge. But I think I’m ready.”
On a board this tightly packed with star names, it looks as if she better be.