Tseng is the woman to beat at Carnoustie

Yani Tseng

Defending champion, Yani Tseng, will start out as the firm favourite when the Ricoh Women’s British Open gets underway over the Championship course at Carnoustie early on Thursday morning.

The 22 year-old World No 1 travelled to Scotland having won once in Taiwan, twice on the Ladies European Tour and three times on the LPGA Tour so far this season and harbours high hopes of becoming the first person to defend the Ricoh Women’s British Open title since America’s Sherri Steinhauer  back in 1999.

Tseng started the season with four successive victories, at the Taifong Ladies Open on the LPGA of Taiwan Tour, the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and the ANZ Ladies Open on the LET, followed by the Honda LPGA Thailand Open, the season opener on the LPGA, but her most significant triumph came at the Wegmans LPGA Championship in Rochester, New York, where, at the tender age of 22 years, 5 months and 3 days, she became the youngest woman in history to claim four Major titles.

Tseng’s rise has been positively meteoric and she sees no reason why she cannot take her tally to five Majors in just 15 starts at Carnoustie.

“I feel very confident right now, I feel comfortable,” Tseng said as she completed her preparations for what will be her fourth tilt at the Ricoh Women’s British Open title. “I just feel very relaxed, and tomorrow I’m just going to try to be positive and smile and be patient. That’s all I can control. You can’t control the wind, or the bounces you get, you just have to go out and play the golf course.”

The defending champion is just one of numerous competitors who have had nothing but for praise for the golf course. Car-nasty has been transformed into Car-nicey, it would seem.

“I love this course,” she said. “I think it’s one of my favourite golf courses. As soon as I played a couple of holes, I knew I’d like it. I don’t know if I’m going to shoot a good score, but I just feel I will have lots of fun on this golf course.”

2010 US Open champion, Paula Creamer, is one of the very few competitors to have played Carnoustie prior to this week. She played the Championship course twice prior to heading to France for last Week’s Evian Masters and also and understands why it is regarded as one of the world’s best tests of golf.

“I think it’s by far one of my favourite links courses I have played,” said the American. “I think it’s very fair, hard but fair. I think it tests every aspect of your game. You have to hit all kinds of shots, and that’s what I like. I like the harder, the better. But, of course Mother Nature is in control out here. That’s going to dictate the scores, for sure.”

Creamer has not won since claiming the 2010 US Open at Oakmont CC but, after a string of good performances, including a runner-up finish at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup and ties for third place at the LPGA State Farm Classic and the Wegmans LPGA Championship, she feels a tenth Tour victory might be just around the corner.

“I feel really good,” she admitted. “In the last several tournaments I have played in, I have felt right in there. This past week I have hit the ball very well and I have started to make a bunch of putts, which is nice.

“But it’s just about putting myself into contention, that’s all I can really ask for. But I do feel good.

The ever-popular Michelle Wie arrived in Scotland armed with a new long putter she put in her back straight after finishing tied 55th at the recent US Open over the East Course at The Broadmoor, in Colorado Springs, and is still experimenting to see how best to wield it.

“I just thought it was time for a change,” said Wie, who is currently juggling Tour life with finishing a Communications degree at Stanford University, and whose best performance at the Ricoh Women’s British Open remains her share of third place at Royal Birkdale in 2005, when she won the Smyth Salver, awarded to the leading amateur.

“I’m a tall person. It’s kind of funny, actually. It’s a belly putter for me but yesterday I saw (Jiyai) Shin putting on the practice green and, when I put my putter next to her, it came up to her shoulders.

“Obviously, I’m just trying out different grips and different ways to do it, but I just thought it was time for a change. We’ll see, I like it so far.”

There will be no such imponderables for home hope, the 2009 Ricoh Women’s British Open champion, Catriona Matthew, who won the Scottish Ladies’ Championship on the Championship course back in the early 1990s and has more links experience than any other golfer in the field.

“I played a lot here as an amateur,” said the Scot, whose best finish this season came when she claimed fourth place at the Shoprite LPGA Classic. “I think it’s probably one of the best links in Scotland. I think you have to drive the ball well and keep it out of the bunkers. If you can do that, you have a great chance.

Matthew will starts as the favourite among the home players but a dark horse may well be England’s Melissa Reid, who won the Deloitte Dutch Ladies Open last month and has discovered a new inner calm ahead of this week’s Championship.

“I don’t really know why I feel so calm but I do,” said the former Curtis Cup international, who won the Smyth Salver at this Championship back in 2007, just before turning professional.

“I mean, I’ve got a lot of good people behind me. I’ve got my manager here and my family, I’ve got my Mum and Dad coming, my coach is here, my best mate is here, so maybe that’s why I’ve got this sense of calmness.

“Actually, last year, I felt pretty confident last year (at Royal Birkdale) but just got off to a bad start. I’m just going to try to be patient. I’m not really paying very much attention to anything else apart from what works for me.”

The first round gets underway at 06.30 (BST) on Thursday morning when Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall, a two-times winner on this year’s LET and last year’s recipient of the Smyth Salver just before she turned pro, tees off in the company of German amateur, Sophia Popov and compatriot, Anna Nordqvist.

Matthew heads out in the third group at 06.52 alongside America’s Cristie Kerr and Momoko Ueda from Japan while Reid is just behind in the company of Steinhauer and 16 year-old amateur, Lauren Taylor, from Woburn, who recently became the youngest ever winner of the Ladies British Amateur Championship at the age of 16.

Creamer and Tseng are both among the later starters. The American tees off at 11.37, alongside Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and Japan’s Sakura Yokomine, while Tseng begins her defence at 11.59 in the company of American Morgan Pressel and another Japanese player, Mika Miyazato.

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