Stanford on song despite howling gale

Majority of the field falters during vicious day on links but prayers pay off for American
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The Independent Online

Anna Rawson, by day a Touring golf professional, by night a catwalk model, believes the only way to save the crumbling women's game is "to sexy it up". The controversial Aussie's latest suggestion is for the players' individual records of choice to be blasted out on loudspeakers as they step on to the first tee. "Blame It On The Bogeys" would have been apt for Rawson here on the first day of the Ricoh Women's British Open yesterday.

In fairness, Rawson was far from being the only player racking up the blue numbers. Of the first 100 players to finish, a staggering 35 – more than a third – failed to break 80. Indeed, when put alongside Gwladys Nocera's 91, Rawson's 82 looked almost respectable. Nocera, if you didn't know, is the European No 1.

The Frenchwoman had two eights on her card and, get this, no pars whatsoever on the back nine. More than any other, her tear-stained scorecard summed up the misery of a long and abject day on the links. The winds raged, the pin-positions were on the bloodthirsty side of sadistic, the rounds took six hours and the rough gobbled up victims like pit-loads of crocodiles hiding under green afros. Believe it, this was "sexy" only to the worryingly weird.

However, there were a few competitors who deserved to whistle "I Will Survive" as they walked off the final green. The American Angela Stanford left some awful form behind her to record a heroic two-under 70. The 31-year-old spent her formative years on the blustery fairways of Texas but has shown no particular love of the links. "My best performance in the British was my first, in '02," said Stanford, referring to her13th placing at Turnberry. "To be honest, I didn't think I was going to be doing that today."

Stanford's groundwork certainly did not scream of a pro ready to take on Lytham's brutal challenge. While her rivals were being blown all over Lancashire on Monday and Tuesday, Stanford was sightseeing in Rome and did not arrive at the course for a practise round until Wednesday afternoon. "I did say a few prayers in the Sistine Chapel, though," she pointed out. The Korean Song-Hee Kim was later to join her at the top of the leaderboard.

Anybody around par had fared rather splendidly and, for many, Michelle Wie being up there on one-over was the day's most positive sight. This is the last chance the former girl wonder has to win a major as a teenager and she displayed all of her new-found maturity in her 73.

Also on the same number was the Scot Vikky Laing, although with respect to the qualifier, the performance of her countrywoman Catriona Matthew was perhaps the more remarkable story. The 39-year-old is playing just her second tournament in six months because of the birth of her second daughter, Sophie, 10 weeks ago, but still managed to knock it around in 74. It could and should have been even more impressive as she lost a ball on the 17th.

Alas, by and large the English did not fare well. Samantha Head was on the heels of the pacesetters after her own 74, but the fancied trio of Laura Davies (79), Karen Stupples (82) and Melissa Reid (81) struggled badly. Stupples, the 2004 champion, called the rough "hellacious", while Davies was too upset to talk. It was not a pop track the old girl needed as she slouched up to that 18th green, but something by Mendelssohn.

Walking up the final fairway to music was another of Rawson's ideas in the manifesto she presented on ESPN on Wednesday night. It was radical stuff but do not expect anyone to take it seriously. In February, when asked about the game's image, Rawson said: "They [the media] still think we're at 25 years ago, you know, when the tour was full of, you know, a lot of dykes and unattractive females that nobody wanted to watch." No, they don't place too much stock in her opinions.