Golf: Matthew enjoys home comfort

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By Andy Farrell

at Gleneagles

ANY OF those north of the border underwhelmed by the exploits of English cricketers trying to earn a historic victory at Headingley could instead rise a glass to Catriona Matthew, a home-grown winner of the McDonalds WPGA Championship. Raised in North Berwick and educated just down the road from the King's Course at Stirling University, Matthew became the first Scot to win on home soil for 10 years.

Although Scotland won the Alfred Dunhill Cup three years ago, it was in 1988 that Cathy Panton-Lewis won the Scottish Open at Cawder. In the men's game, the last tour event by a Scot was the Glasgow Open in 1984 when Ken Brown was the victor.

Having graduated in 1992 with a degree in accountancy, Matthew had the good sense and the financial acumen not to rush into a career on the troubled European women's circuit. Instead when Matthew, now 28, did turn professional in 1994, she qualified directly for the LPGA Tour in America and her experience from four years there helped to hold off the challenge of Laura Davies and Helen Alfredsson.

Davies was the Scot's nearest challenger overnight but she dropped shots at the first two holes and it was the Swede, last year's winner, who briefly drew level. But Matthew responded by birdieing the back-to-back par-fives at the sixth and seventh.

The lead was four at the turn, soon became five and though she admitted to be nervous over the last couple of holes the calm temperament that is the hallmark of her game saw her home.

A fellow Scot, Kathryn Marshall, sprayed Matthew with champagne as she walked off the final green with a five-stroke winning margin over Davies and Alfredsson. Her first win in Europe, and second of her professional - she won in Australia two years ago - was sealed with a final round 69 and raised her to sixth in the Solheim Cup table.

"It's amazing to have a Scottish winner," Matthew, who dropped only seven shots to par all week, said. "The crowd were great; they cheered me on to every green.

"There are so many eagle chances on this course that I knew both Laura and Helen could shoot a low score and I am delighted to hang on against two such world-class players."

A gallery of more than 17,000 were rewarded for their optimism not just with Matthew's victory but with some afternoon sun after a damp morning. During the week, some 52,000 attended the event, a record for the championship.

Similar galleries should be in attendance at Royal Lytham this week as the Weetabix British Open moves to the Lancashire links, just up the coast from Royal Birkdale where the men's version took place last month. By happy coincidence, it is where Matthew won her British Amateur title in 1993. As strong as the field for the McDonalds was, it will be even stronger at Lytham.

Europe's top two, the Swedes Annika Sorenstam and Liselotte Neumann will also be joined by the South Korean sensation Pak Se-ri, who has already won two majors in her rookie season - the LPGA Championship and the US Women's Open - and the defending champion Karrie Webb, from Australia. While the Gleneagles event enjoyed extensive coverage on BBC Scotland, at times at the expense of the action from Headingley, the British Open will be televised nationally on the BBC.

The event deserves the high profile and should not be relegated as it is to a slot on the calendar opposite one of the men's majors, the USPGA Championship. The ill-fortunes of the European LPGA Tour mean the opportunities to see the leading women golfers in this country are few and far between but it is one that should not be missed. Especially so as this is a sport where so many of the top players, and many of the emerging talents such as Matthew, are born on this side of the Atlantic.

Scores, Digest, page 22