Women's British Open: Fudoh for thought as Asian players confirm dominance
Japanese star edges ahead of Shin with leader's caddie providing the only British presence in stark contrast to Oriental brilliance
Sunday 03 August 2008
The Old Course here in leafy Berkshire is the last place on earth one would expect to witness the advance of a revolution but today the Asian annexation of big-time female golf will surely continue apace. Yuri Fudoh of Japan is one shot ahead of Ji-Yai Shin of Korea going into the final round of the Ricoh Women's British Open and another Japanese in Ai Miyazato is two strokes back. Land of the rising Sunningdale and all that.
The trio already appear to have shaken off the world No 1, after what was a frustrating day for Lorena Ochoa. On the front nine she looked like the "Tigress" Woods and on the back nine she turned into a bumbling pussycat.
When Ochoa soared to the turn in 32 shots with five birdies she was one behind and seemingly a certainty to do a "Padraig" and defend her title. Two hours later she was five behind after coming back in 39 and in need of something bordering on the miraculous today. Still, if the little Mexican is as good as everyone says she is then it might not be such a fanciful eventuality. In truth, though, she has not been at her peerless best here this week.
If there is a American to deny Asia then it will likely be Cristie Kerr. Together with Juli Inkster she is on 10-under with compatriot Natalie Gulbis on nine under, and poised to launch a challenge. It will have to be special, though as Shin, in particular, appears a startling prospect ready to announce herself on the big stage.
She is only 20, but won nine out of the last 18 events in which she competed on the Korean Tour last year and has put in some eye-catching performances in America too. At 5ft, her swing is bound to be compact, but it is wonderfully so, evoking images of a young Ian Woosnam. This could just be the first major of many. Fudoh, however, will be no pushover. She is 31 and a perennial winner on the Japanese Tour, having topped that money list six times in a row up to 2005. Fudoh has refused to join the American Tour and has hardly suffered as a result, having earned nigh on 900 million yen (£5m). Another potent weapon in her armoury is her caddie.
The Londoner Pete Coleman earned fame while helping Bernhard Langer to two Green Jackets and is clearly having the same affect around another course he knows so well. This is the third time he has carried for Fudoh in this event and although he does not speak Japanese and she does not speak English, they have learned to conquer this language barrier. There may even be a bit of personal honour to be clawed back for Fudoh as Miyazato took away the bulk of Japanese support. When the 23-year-old joined the LPGA Tour in 2006 it was said that she had a bigger fan club in her home country than Woods. That may be overstretching it somewhat, although her swing is sweet enough to keep them swooning. She outscored her playing partner, Ochoa, by three yesterday, with a 68 which is not the worst form guide.
Alas, Coleman will be the only Briton in contention this afternoon. There are no British players in the top 25 and only Karen Stupples in the top 35. For the last few years Laura Davies has bemoaned the lack of young talent coming through and yesterday her fears were backed up by an important source. Annika Sorenstam stepped off the 18th green for the penultimate time in her major career and paused to reflect on her own disappointing performance here (she is 11 back on two-under) to confront the mystery of the missing home challenge. "I don't think you have for a while," said the Swede when asked why Britain cannot hold their own in the world game.
"I'm not really sure what your system is but the key is to grow the game at an early age. It's very important to stimulate the juniors and get them involved. You have some great role models, but I'm not really sure what happens after that. I know in Sweden we are getting some younger players. But, we have a generation now that within five years you're probably going to miss half of us. It's so important to keep up with the Asians. I don't know how many there are here, maybe 30 or more? And how many in the top 20? That's even more important." Indeed, the answers to Sorenstam's question make staggering reading. There were 33 Asians in the field and 12 in the top 18 after the third round.
That is no numerical fluke, either, as it is merely mirrors the world rankings. There are 25 in the world's top 50 and more are on the march in the biggest overhaul ever to hit professional women's golf. Compare this to the miserable British figures.
There are two women in the world's top 50 and Catriona Matthew (27th) is 38 and Stupples (32nd) is 35. The young, meanwhile, are in the outskirts of nowhere. Why? Well, listen to Melissa Reid, a 20-year-old from Derby who has at least shown promise since turning professional last December.
"I don't know what the Koreans are doing, but I do know they are working hard," said Reid, who is being mentored by Sir Clive Woodward. "I just feel that British players and British sports people in general, especially the young players do not know what hard work is. I mean, I wouldn't have done unless I'd met Clive."
Watch the final round of the Women's British Open on BBC2 from 1.30pm today
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