Stacy Lewis and Michelle Wie are looking forward to resuming their friendly rivalry when the Ricoh Women’s British Open gets underway at Royal Birkdale on Thursday.
World No. 1 Lewis heads into the Championship as defending Champion while Wie won her first Major at last month’s US Open and both expect to be challenging each other for the top titles for many years to come.
“I think it’s great that people are starting to see Michelle and I as rivals,” said the 29 year-old World No. 1 who claimed her second Major victory when she closed out Korean duo Hee Young Park and Na Yeon Park down the stretch 12 months ago at St Andrews.
“I think rivalries are great for any sport and Michelle definitely moves the needle. I think her playing good golf in good for golf. It’s good for the Tour and it’s good for the other players.
“I said the US Open couldn’t have been scripted any better. She’s our biggest star and her winning there was huge for us.”
Wie finished tied for third as an amateur on her Ricoh Women’s British Open debut back in 2005 but it took until last month at Pinehurst No. 2 until she finally landed the Major that insiders had been anticipating for so long.
“I felt like a donut out of the frier,” she admitted in the aftermath of her two shot victory over Lewis in the sandhills of North Carolina. “It’s awesome. It feels amazing. I’m extremely proud of myself.”
The 24 year-old American also admits to being delighted even to be mentioned in the same breath as her great friend and rival. “I feel very honoured that people are putting me up against Stacy. I don’t think you’ll find a rivalry where we hate each other or anything like that because I want her to do well and I think she wants me to do well. But I think it’s fun because we definitely want to beat each other.
“It’s going to be tough because she’s so incredibly consistent,” she added. “Annoyingly consistent, in fact.”
Lewis and Wie will start out among the favourites to land the £277,887 ($456,818) first prize come Sunday night but they will certainly not have it all their own way against a quality field that includes every women’s Major champion since 2009.
Lewis, Wie, Suzann Pettersen and Lexi Thompson between them have won four out of the last five Majors but nobody would discount the challenge of Korea’s Inbee Park on a course that has yielded two successive Asian champions in the shape of Jeong Jang (2005) and Yani Tseng (2010) and last year’s joint Smyth Salver winner Lydia Ko may also make a realistic bid to land the big prize.
One thing that all the leading contenders are sure about is that competitors will need to avoid the dense rough at all costs.
“I think that’s going to be the key this week,” confirmed Lewis. “You can’t just stand up there and rip driver. You have to think your way round. There’s so much grass on this golf course. There’s a lot of grass in the fairways. The rough just off the fairways is really thick and the long stuff is even worse.
“The rough is definitely longer that it was the last two times I was here,” agreed Wie. “Birkdale is one of the most demanding courses off the tee. It’s a little bit easier once you’re in play but not much.
“I like links golf,” she added. I think it’s really cool that once a year we get to play a course that’s completely different to any other course we play. It’s a shock to the system but it’s kind of exciting. I really enjoy coming here.”
One player who may be more at home on the links is 2009 Champion, Catriona Matthew, who comes into the Championship fresh from a top-10 finish at the US Women’s Open in what is her 20th year out on Tour. The Scot remains a competitive as ever but is under no illusion how difficult it will be it will be to contend.
“The course is in fantastic shape but the rough is definitely thicker than the last couple of times we were here,” she said.
“You’re going to have to drive well this week and keep it in the fairways. You’re going to have to play well to have a good score round here,” she added setting the scene perfectly for what in all likelihood will develop into a battle between the very best players in the women’s game.