Germany’s Caroline Masson holds a surprise two shot lead heading into the final round of the 2011 Ricoh Women’s British Open over the Championship course at Carnoustie.
The relatively unknown 22 year-old World No. 141 from Gladbeck, near Dusseldorf, carded a hugely impressive four under par 68 to go into the last day on 15 under par 201 and with a two shot advantage over World No. 1, Yani Tseng.
Tseng started the day four shots off the pace but moved ominously into second place after a best-of-the-day six under par 66 and will now meet her German rival for the first time when they step onto the first tee at lunch time on Sunday.
In the match ahead, Scottish former champion, Catriona Matthew, is paired with South Korea’s Inbee Park after both finished in a tie for third place on nine under par 207. Another Korean, Na Yeon Park, is fifth after posting a 72 for a 54-hole aggregate of 208, while America’s Britanny Lang, Korean’s Se Ri Pak and another former champion, Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson are one shot further back on seven under par. Altogether, 44 players are under par heading into the closing 18 holes.
Masson arrived in Scotland without much of a pedigree but has impressed everyone with the way she has handled the spotlight. She started her third round with a three-putt bogey on the 394-yard par-4 first but bounced back with a birdie on the 396-yard par-4 second and then added two more on the fifth and the sixth to go out in 34.
The German continued to move in the right direction with further birdies on the 11th, 14th and 17th and only slipped up right at the end when she hit her second shot into the sand at the last and failed to get-up-and-down. Even then, however, she can take great credit because her fourth shot, from just off green raced past the hole, leaving her to hole a testing 5-foot putt to retain a two hole advantage over Tseng.
“It feels really, really good to be in this position,” said Masson, whose father, Stephan, is a tennis coach and whose brother, Alex, is with her in Scotland. “To be honest, I can’t really believe it. I’m just trying to enjoy every moment and take in everything that’s happening.
“I was watching the leaderboard so I knew what Yani was doing,” she added. “I’m very excited about playing with her already. I’m really looking forward to meeting her and am pretty sure I can learn a lot from the way she plays.”
Tseng confirmed after her round that she had never heard of Masson before the start of the week but was full of praise for what the German had achieved. “When I saw her name, I had to ask my caddie ‘who’s that,’” she said. “I have never played with her. I have never seen her play before but she must be good to play so well this week.
“I think she’ll be a great player and it’s good to see her at the top of the leaderboard,” Tseng added. “I think tomorrow we’ll become friends. We’ll just have a chat and enjoy it.”
Tseng arrived in Scotland having won once in Taiwan, twice on the Ladies European Tour and three times on the LPGA Tour to date this season. One of those victories came at the LPGA Championship, where she became the youngest player ever to win four majors at the tender age of 22 year, five months and 3 days, and now she is hungry for more.
The diminutive Taiwanese player went out in level par 35 after a birdie on the 448-yard par-5 fifth and a bogey on the 348-yard par-4 seventh but then moved ominously into gear by gaining five shots to par in five holes from the 10th.
That run started with birdies on the 369-yard par-4 10th and the 317-yard par-4 11th and then gathered pace with a birdie on the 129-yard par-3 13th and a glorious eagle on the 427-yard par-5 14th where she holed out from about 23-yards across the green.
“You know, I played awesome today,” she said. “I played really smart and hit my irons well. I missed some (putts) but I still made a lot. I just felt really good.”
“I have learned a lot of things over the last few years,” she added. “I have won tournaments, lost tournaments and have learned from the experience. I know that will help tomorrow. All I can do is try my best, play one shot at a time and try not to think too much. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I just want to keep my chest out, chin up, keep my body language positive. That’s what I have been doing this year and it helps me to stay relaxed and keep thinking positive.”
Matthew will also have years of experience to call on as she endeavours to win a Major title in front of her home fans.
The Scot started the day in a share of 12th place after opening rounds of 70 and 69 but moved into a share of third place with a fine 68 which might have been better had she managed to hole from 14 feet for her fifth birdie of the day on the last hole.
The 41 year-old mother of two from North Berwick began the round with four straight pars before claiming her first birdie on the treacherous 358-yard par-4 fifth where the hole was cut in the most difficult position on the small shelf to the rear of the green.
The Scot reached the turn in one under par 35 and then romped home in 33 with three birdies at the 11th, 14th and 17th to give herself a realistic chance of duplicating her emotional victory at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2009.
“It was great to win at Lytham but it would mean even more if I could do it in front of my home fans tomorrow,” she said. “I mean, obviously, it would be fantastic. I’m an ambassador for Carnoustie Country so it couldn’t get better than that.
“I’d still like to have been a little bit closer (to the lead),” she added. “But it’s supposed to be a little bit windier tomorrow, so there should be plenty of chances to make up the ground.”
Danielle Kang looks all set to be crowned as winner of the winner of the Smyth Salver, awarded to the leading amateur and in the process to join an illustrious list of former winners that includes Rebecca Hudson, Michelle Wie, Amy Yang, Melissa Reid, Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall.
The 2010 American Women’s Amateur champion carded a third round 75 to go into the final round on level par 216 and six shots ahead of European Amateur champion, Sophia Popov from Germany.
Popov took an eight on the 396-yard par-5 17th en route to a 77 and a three round total of six over par 222 but then put her disappointment by going out to support Masson along with the rest of her family.
“The Popov family were supporting me the whole way,” Masson confirmed. “There were quite a few Germans out there. I just heard it.
“They were trying to speak German to me and everything. It was nice to have some German support out there, but all the spectators were great, and supported us very well.
“It was a nice day out there,” she added. “I hope it will be just as nice tomorrow.”
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For a full order of play for the final round please click here.
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