Golf Australia

Reflections on Ladies Masters at Royal Pines

Cheyenne Woods

Cheyenne Woods was ranked 363rd in the world going into the Volvik Australian Ladies Masters at Royal Pines, but her personal sponsors include Nike and Rolex and her public profile far outstrips her record. That's the way it is when your uncle is Tiger Woods.

If you wondered why the 23-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona is so generous when she takes the continual and inevitable media questions about her famous uncle at every event in every week ("Has Tiger called you?"), then that is precisely why. Her fame comes from her blood relationship with her uncle, and not much more at this stage, and Cheyenne can hardly complain about that.

Tournament organiser Bob Tuohy gave her an invitation to play, just to show that there are certain advantages to having the surname Woods.

But Cheyenne Woods, European Tour professional, has got star quality, a natural smile and a good golf swing, of that there is no doubt, and she was perfectly solid with a closing 69 to win her first big tournament on the Gold Coast on Sunday. It was a wonderful finish to the Royal Pines tournament, given that when Karrie Webb was disqualified on Friday night the whole event could have headed into a black hole with no public interest.

But watching Woods and teenaged Australian Minjee Lee go down the stretch was captivating, and either one as winner would be a good story. As it turned out, Woods was pretty much safe when she hit the final green in two leaving her with two putts for birdie on the closing par-five. Lee, the 17-year-old amateur from Perth, let a chance slip when she hit her short iron shot close at the par-four 17th, with Woods in the greenside bunker. Lee missed, and Woods got up-and-down, leaving her two shots ahead going down the last.
Minjee Lee is part of Golf Australia's national squad and she is going to be a star. She has already been the US girls champion (2012) and twice Australian amateur champion (2013-14) and she is ranked in the top five amateurs in the world. Born in Perth of Korean parents, she has been duelling with the Victorian Su-Hyun Oh, another national squad member, in recent years in all the big events. The pair are close friends and they appear to drive each other, and Oh also has a bright future, having contended in professional tournaments herself in recent years.

Lee was virtually nerveless in shooting 69 on Sunday and she put tremendous pressure on Woods, particularly with a stretch of three straight birdies in the middle of her round. Two points stood out about the way she played: first, her natural calm and sunny demeanour, and second, her brilliant putting. This is a formidable combination.

Royal Pines is being dug up as you read this by Graham Marsh and his workers as the resort's owner, the RACV, looks to make it into a more challenging championship layout, and it is not before time. Built as a resort course for amateurs, it has greens that are too flat and too big, and bunkers that are pathetically-shallow. It was plain watching the last group this weekend that it was a putting competition, as the better players hit green-after-green and never found much trouble. By the time the Australian PGA Championship is played there later this year I suspect it will be a much better venue.

A final word on the great Karrie Webb, who suffered the severe embarrassment of a rare DQ after signing for an incorrect score on Friday, having signed for a five on the par-five 12th when she had actually had a bogey six. It cost her any chance of winning a record ninth Masters title, though in truth, she was not playing at her best after a lengthy break from the game. She should be in better shape for the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open this week.

It is important to note a couple of things about what happened to her at Royal Pines. Firstly, the initial mistake was made by Chella Choi, her playing partner, who wrote down the number five on Webb's card. This was exacerbated by Webb's failure to pick it up when she checked her card. These are daily basics for all players and all the more important for professionals.

So Webb is at fault, but it is not a hanging offence. Many professional players have made the same mistake, and her apology via Twitter should be accepted, and the fact that she brought the mistake to the officials' notice should be noted. Webb is far from a cheat and has always been highly protective of her reputation and her integrity.

"She was obviously disappointed, but she did the right thing, she came straight to us and brought it to our attention,'' said Fraser Munro, from the Ladies European Tour. As she should have. And we all move on to Victoria Golf Club, a magnificent venue for a tournament that will add the likes of Suzann Pettersen, Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer and Catriona Matthew to the group who teed it up at Royal Pines. Personally, I can't wait.

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