Golf: Burton and King conquer the rain

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The Independent Online
IT IS not particularly long but Royal Lytham is like a stick of Blackpool Rock. It has thoroughbred ingrained throughout and yesterday the best female players in the world found it an off-putting experience. Very few survived the slaughter of the innocents.

Of the field of 138 for the Weetabix Women's British Open only two, the Americans Brandie Burton and Betsy King, were below par. For the fairer sex it was an unfair contest in may respects. They spend most of the time strolling around courses in the sunshine states of America wearing visors, sunglasses and shorts. Then they come to the Lancashire coast for the biggest tournament Europe has to offer and they look as if they are preparing for an assault on Everest.

Lytham, which, of course, is on the Open Championship rota, would have been a novel test at the best of times and yesterday was almost the worst of times; they were hit by wind and rain.

The last time the Women's Open was held on a classic links was at Royal Birkdale in 1986 when Laura Davies won with an aggregate of 283. It will be a miracle if anybody gets near that total this weekend. Yesterday Davies battered around in a 79 that contained seven bogeys, a double bogey and two birdies. "It was just impossible," Davies said. "We were absolutely done with the weather."

Se Ri Pak, the one woman tiger economy who, in her rookie season, has already won two major championships, had a 78. "I have three days left and every player has to face the same conditions so I have a chance," she said. "My caddie helps."

Under the circumstances, a seasoned caddie here is almost invaluable and they don't come much more seasoned than Miss Pak's navigator, Andy Prodger. He helped Nick Faldo to win a couple of majors and was carrying the bag when the Englishman was third in the Open at Lytham in 1988. "She's learning all the time and she'll get better and better," Prodger said.

A handful of players actually relish the conditions. King, who celebrated her 43rd birthday yesterday, putted brilliantly; Burton's short game was also impressive. Confirming the suspicion that geography is not taught in the US, Brandie said: "I grew up in California which is a bit of a windy city and I tend to hit the ball low."

There were also notable performances from Trish Johnson (level par) and Smriti Mehra (plus one).

"I would love to play on links every week," Johnson said. "You have to use every shot in the book and use your imagination."

With most of the scores in the 80s Johnson's sentiments would not have struck a chord although she found support from an unlikely quarter - the Royal Calcutta Golf Club. That is where Mehra, the only woman professional in India, learned her golf. "I hope the wind blows harder," she said. "I love it. The longer the course the better." Joining Johnson and Mehra in the masochistic tendency were 16,830 hardy spectators, a record attendance for any day of the Women's Open.