Date: February 14, 2019
Author: Martin Blake

WRAP: Webb fires, but two at the top

Karrie Webb had the crowds chattering but England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Taiwan’s Wei-Ling Hsu had the last say at The Grange today, as the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open began with some low scoring on a benign Adelaide day.

It was as though there were two tournaments in one on the west course today; the morning field made birdies on command with not a breath of wind to bother them, then most of the afternoon players including world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn, fought a fluky breeze and largely lost.

The exception to this rule was Hsu, the 24-year-old Taiwanese player who is a rising star of the game and ranked inside the top 70 players in the world. Late in the afternoon she carded a bogey-free 65 to match Ewart Shadoff’s seven-under from the morning, and they will sleep on the lead in the $US1.3 million tournament.

Five-time Open winner Webb is tied third, two shots back at five-under with Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom and Englishwoman Bronte Law, while Perth’s Hannah Green was among those in the next group at four-under alongside the likes of last year’s winner Jin-Young Ko.

Ewart Shadoff, the world No. 59 who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona will hardly be surprised – she finished inside the top 10 at the ISPS Handa Vic Open last week, has twice represented Europe in the Solheim Cup and was runner-up in the Women’s British Open in 2017 as well as fourth in the 2013 US Women’s Open.

But the 31-year-old, coached by David Leadbetter, will have a hurdle to jump over the next three days if she stays in contention. In almost a decade of trying both at LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour level, she has not produced a win.

These are matters to be decided.

As for today, she was sensational, making birdie at the first and the fourth and then hitting it close at four consecutive holes from the seventh to the 10th for four birdies on the bounce, vaulting into the lead. Another birdie at the par-five 13th, a bomb from long range, took her to seven-under and she parred in from there, at one point making a great, scrambling par-save from the left trap at the 14th.

She had just 24 putts for the day, a nice recipe for a low score.

“I'm actually swinging it really well,’’ she said later. “I feel really confident with my ball-striking.  After last week, I just wanted to do a little bit of work on my putting.  And I feel much better today and much more confident.  So, it's good going into the weekend.’’

The Grange is not unfamiliar to Ewart Shadoff in any way. She was tied-20 when the Open was played here in 2016, and as far back as 2008 she played in a World Amateur Teams Championship for England here.  “I actually really love this course,’’ she said.

The Taiwanese player Hsu is an LPGA professional who had her best year on the biggest tour last year, earning $US630,000 and finishing 31st on the money list, including a top-five finish at the US Women’s Open. She was near-flawless, playing in the slightly more difficult afternoon conditions, making seven birdies.

World No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn started poorly with a 76, while Australia’s top-ranked player Minjee Lee began with a one-under par 71.

But perhaps the highlight of the day was the performance of the 44-year-old Webb, who jumped out of the gates with four birdies on her front nine, starting from the 10th, and a further lip-out on the sixth hole. Webb is playing her 23rd Open and doing it as a part-timer, having stepped away from the constant travel in 2018. This week, she said that she’d reached a point in 2017 where she was not liking golf. By stepping back, playing just eight tournaments, and spending more time in Australia, she has found some peace (and attended four of her six nephews and nieces’ birthdays). It is a new Karrie Webb, but a very good one on the course, to be sure.

Last week at 13th Beach she turned back the clock with a Friday 65, before fading in the wild weather. This week, she looks confident and relaxed and heaven forbid, dangerous in this tournament.

The other Australian worthy of note was Green, the 22-year-old from Mt Lawley in Perth whose 68 came in the afternoon breezes. Green said she treated this event “like a major”. Third last year, she has done herself proud.