Contrasting styles of play are always interesting in sport. Ivan Lendl, camped on the base line, always played tremendous matches with the net-rushing Pat Cash. Arnold Palmer was what many would describe as a reckless golfer yet his greatest rival Jack Nicklaus was, in contrast, very conservative.
Seve Ballesteros played with wild and brilliant flamboyance yet Nick Faldo plotted logically his way from tee to green, hole after hole. They were the best European players of their generation yet they played utterly different games but games entirely suited to their personalities.
This week at Royal Melbourne we have seen two players of great contrast play their way to what always looked like an inevitable final day pairing.
Lydia Ko plays the Faldo and Nicklaus version of the game. I have watched the New Zealander play twenty-seven holes this week and aside from a misjudged pitch into the 17th green on Saturday night she has not missed a single shot. For all the difficulty of the course she is the only one who has consistently kept the ball in the right places on the fairways and from there it is possible, with great precision, to play to the proper parts of the greens. Only from there can you expect to hole putts and, as importantly, avoid the three putts.
Ariya Jutanugarn is a much different player. Rarely does she use a driver yet Ko uses it on almost every hole. She has a full bag of iron clubs all the way through from a two to the pitching clubs. Ko’s bag is full of clubs with headcovers on them and her least lofted iron is a six.
The Thai crunches the ball out hard and low with a tendency to take deep divots even with her hybrid club from the tees.
Ko barely brushes the ground. Ko hits every shot where she aims. Jutanugarn does not. Both however play brilliant golf, leaving the question of who may win over the final eighteen holes at Royal Melbourne.
The greens won’t be getting any softer but both have done well stopping long shots on greens more difficult than the ones the PGA Tour players have found at Riviera in Los Angeles this week. Ko has stopped the balls with a much softer flight and by landing in the precise spots – and driving to the correct sides of the wide fairways. Jutanugarn does it by powerfully spinning the ball to a stop.
Amy Yang, one behind at six under par, moved from Korea to Queensland for a time to develop her golf and won the Masters on the Gold Coast when she was a sixteen-year-old. Obviously she is not without chance and perhaps Katherine Kirk and Julieta Granada three shots behind could do something early on to grab the attention of the leading pair.
The interest though will be all on the final two-ball. Can the more powerful player, Jutanugarn, stay with the one who has barely missed a shot all week?
Can the more powerful player bludgeon what is not a long course for a player of her strength into submission with one great, low round?
Will the precision of one of the most precise players ever to play golf grind them all into the ground?
They are the questions.