YANI Tseng was the happiest woman in Carnoustie on Sunday when she won the Ricoh Women’s British Open Gold Championship by four strokes from America’s Brittany Lang.
The 22-year-old Taiwanese player became only the fourth woman in history to retain the title, which she won at Royal Birkdale last year, and secured her fifth Major golfing crown.
The week at Carnoustie was one of low scoring, with the expected wind across the Angus links never materialising. Christened ‘Carnasty’ when The Open returned to the links in 1999, it was definitely a case of ‘Carnicety’ this time.
Headlines on the opening days were dominated by South Korea’s Meena Lee carding the best round of the day, a 65 (seven under par) to lead the championship after the first 18 holes.
And she reflected on a slice of good fortune she had at the 18th when the ball skipped over the Barry Burn. “I hit a really bad shot, but it took a really nice bounce. I got lucky.”
Scotland’s best hope of success appeared to rest with 2009 champion Catriona Matthew, who was reasonably happy with her two under par 70, commenting: “I’m fairly pleased with that. I gave away a couple of shots, but overall I am satisfied with a couple under first round,” she said.
And reflecting on a round which was a mixed bag of five birdies and three bogeys, the Carnoustie Country ambassador commented: “Not too bad. I had one three putt and then drive it in a bunker, but made a good save there on the last with a good up and down.”
Getting under way early was a blessing as the weather changed for the worse later on in the day. “We were lucky,” Matthew said. “It was beautiful for our first, probably, 16 holes. It was lovely.
“Yes it was certainly there for the taking and I kind of knew I wanted to get a couple under par today because it’s probably the calmest it might be for the week.
“It’s a great course. I love it, in great shape. Greens are really good. It’s just tricky off the tee. You’ve got to keep it out of the bunkers or else you’re looking at bogey.”
Defending champion Tseng posted a 71, but she was certainly not to be discounted, roaring back the following day with a 66 to move to seven under for the tournament. She said: “After two days I’m very happy with that. Very good position.”
Prophetic words indeed.
But again all the big noises were being made by the South Koreans with Inbee Park and Se Ri Pak both recording eight under par rounds of 64 to reach the top of the leaderboard.
Park commented afterwards: “It was a very solid day. I putted really good out there. Really happy with the way I played.
“At the moment it’s a really scoreable golf course, but links golf courses you really don’t know what’s going to happen the next two days.”
Pak, too, was understandably delighted by her efforts. “I feel really great. I feel really comfortable, really calm too,” she said.
Carnoustie Country ambassador Matthew was playing very steadily and she made 69 to move to five under for the tournament.
“Two rounds to go, five shots is nothing around this course. Obviously I would have liked to have had another couple of birdies, but five under is not too bad,” she remarked.
But no one could really have guessed that there was more excitement to come from a young German girl playing in the final group.
Caroline Masson (22) didn’t come off the course until 8.30 p.m., but she was delighted to have scored a seven under par 65 to lead the tournament by one shot at -11.
Speaking after her late finish, Masson said: “Awesome. Unbelievable right now. Of course I didn’t expect to lead at any time here, but I have just had two great days and I’m very happy to be playing so well.
“Everything was just really solid. I hit the fairways. I hit the greens. I hit some really close, made some putts and hardly made any mistakes.”
And a trio of names were to dominate the top of the leaderboard as the tournament went into day three.
Defending champion Tseng, new kid on the block Masson and home hope Matthew were all in the mix come the end of the third round.
Ultimately Masson was to finish -15 for a two-shot lead over Tseng, while Matthew saw a birdie putt at the final hole agonisingly lip out and she had to settle for a 68, five behind the leader.
“I was delighted with that,” she said. “I knew I had to go out there and shoot a low number so, yeah, happy with 68.”
Asked how it would feel to win the competition, Matthew remarked: “Obviously it would be fantastic. I’m an ambassador for Carnoustie Country, so to win at Carnoustie would just be fantastic.”
Meanwhile Tseng recorded a second consecutive 66 to be in with a great chance of retaining her trophy. “I played awesome. I played really good today,” she said afterwards.
“They had some really tough pins out there, but I played really smart and hit my irons very well.”
And she conceded she knew nothing of the young lady two shots ahead of her. “I just asked my caddie who’s that. I’ve never seen her play before. I’ve never played with her. But I’m very excited for tomorrow to go out in the last group.”
Masson finished with a 68 for a two-shot advantage. She, too, was looking forward to playing the final round with the world number one.
“I was quite nervous at the beginning and made bogey on the first hole, but then birdied the second so I felt really confident after that. I hit some really good shots out there, made some putts and just enjoyed the gallery and my game,” she said.
“I’m very excited [about playing with Yani]. She’s the best player in the world and she proved that last year and played so well in pretty much every major tournament. I’m really looking forward to meeting her and I’m pretty sure I can learn a lot from her.”
So the stage was set for the fourth day. The practically unknown German leading the field in the Ricoh British Women’s Open from the world number one, while almost everyone around the course was hoping Scotland’s Catriona Matthew could put together a fantastic round and a home winner would be crowned.
But it started badly for young Masson who dropped a shot at the second and third holes, while Tseng went on to make birdie at the sixth to take the lead at -14.
The defending champion had her nose in front and she was not to be caught after that.
Masson dropped another shot at the seventh where Tseng made a par to go two in front.
Meanwhile, Matthew was going along quite nicely and made a birdie at the ninth hole to move to within three shots of Tseng. Masson’s nightmare continued when she dropped another shot at the tenth to fall back to -11 and when Tseng birdied the 11th, she had a four-stroke lead and it looked like it was going to be a procession.
Not so, however, as Tseng made back to back bogeys at 12 and 13 to offer the rest of the field, including the United States’ Brittany Lang, who had made a bit of a charge, some hope.
Tseng was two in front of Matthew and Lang, with the former just missing a birdie opportunity at 14 that would have brought her to within one shot of the defending champion.
The world number one birdied the 14th to regain a three-shot advantage and Matthew’s hopes were pretty much extinguished when she failed to make a birdie at 17.
Tseng, however, did pick up another shot at 17 and a disappointing double bogey at the last meant she finished joint fifth with Masson, who birdied the final two holes to salvage something from a dreadful day at the office.
Tseng’s approach to 18 was sublime and she duly tapped in for a birdie to finish with a 69, 16 under for the tournament and, most importantly, the title of Ricoh British Women’s Open champion.