21 Aug 2020 | Professional golf |

Kirk, Kyriacou lead Aussie battlers

by Mark Hayes

Steph Kyriacou_image
Steph Kyriacou on day one of the 2020 AIG Women's Open. (Photo: Getty Images)

A veteran and the “rookiest” of rookies lead Australia’s charge after day one of the Women’s Open at windswept Troon.

Sydneysider Steph Kyriacou (+2), remarkably playing just her third tournament as a professional, was the outright leader before a couple of late dropped shots and a stunning charge by American Amy Olson.

But the leading Aussie after day one is Katherine Kirk, who defied the brutal winds to fight back superbly after a wobbly start to fire a one-over 72, Olson’s 67 must surely rate as one of her best rounds, with only two other women – Sophia Popov and Marina Alex – under par, and only then by one stroke.

Those numbers only highlight just how important some stout late resistance from the other Aussies had been, with Minjee Lee (+3), Hannah Green (+4), Sarah Kemp (+4) and Su Oh (+5) all rallying late.

Sarah Jane Smith and Whitney Hillier both carded rounds of +7, while Melbourne amateur Gabriela Ruffels hung tough for a long time, but made five bogeys in six holes in her back nine to fade to +8.

Kirk, along with the majority of the field, found early trouble with an uncharacteristic south-westerly lashing the famous coastal links.

But the Queenslander, runner-up in this event to Yani Tseng in 2010, dug deep after a double-bogey seven on the sixth dropped her to three over.

A bogey-free inward 33 was one of the day’s best back-nine performances as she moved rapidly north on the leaderboard.

But it was Kyriacou who had tongues wagging and many on the LPGA Tour scrambling for their media guides.

After her birdie two at the famous Postage Stamp – the short, par-3 eighth hole – the St Michael’s member shared the lead with Germany’s Olivia Cowan.

A bogey at the ninth dropped her back to even par, but by the time she responded with the third birdie of her round on the 10th, Kyriacou was in the outright lead at one under.

A double-bogey on the par-4 12th hole took away her chances of leading, but she also hung tough and dropped just one more shot at the exposed par-3 17th.

West Australian duo Lee and Green both saved their best for last, with some late birdies limiting the damage on a day when many of the favourites suffered irreparable damage to their title hopes.

Lee was among the early victims of a wind that former Women’s Australian Open champion Nelly Korda described as sufficiently strong that walking was hard work.

Lee, the world No.8, was four over through six holes, but didn’t drop another shot and picked one up the 16th when her eagle try sat on the right edge on the way to her carding a three-over-par 74.

Green was prominent on the leaderboard through seven holes, but back-to-back double-bogeys on the eighth and ninth were soon followed by two more bogeys on the 12th and 15th as she crashed to six over.

But the reigning Women’s PGA champion responded in typically plucky style with birdies on the 16th and 18th holes to card a 75.

Kemp, similarly, fought hard after being four over through three holes.

She responded with three birdies - including a great three to finish on the testing 18th - to offset three more bogeys.

Oh will look back and rue 10 minutes of carnage on the long sixth hole on which she took a quadruple-bogey nine. But the Victoria could be proud of her resilience, too, bouncing back with three birdies in an otherwise fine round.

But the Aussie talking point was Kyriacou, who turned professional after her runaway win on the Australian Ladies Classic at Bonville earlier this year, only to watch the pandemic – as it has for so many – ruin her LET schedule.

“I've just been practising. I've been playing money games with a few of the boys back home, which is kind of good – it keeps a competitive atmosphere, but that's pretty much it,” she said.

“It kind of sucked that it all came as soon as I turn pro.”

Kyriacou admitted to a solid dose of nerves on the first tee, but said it might have been worse had she known she’d led halfway through her round.

“That's pretty cool. It's only 10 holes in, but I guess it would be pretty cool if I knew. Probably would have got nervous and done something silly.

“But I'm pretty happy with my round. I left a few shots out there, but if you told me at the beginning of the day I was going to have two over, I'd be stoked.

“I did leave a few shots out there, so hopefully tomorrow just fix those mistakes and put myself in contention.”

Her round included a very rare birdie two on the eighth hole, the famous Postage Stamp, the short par three of just 100m.

“Oh, my God, that tee shot is so scary,” she beamed.

“Yeah, the wind was coming off the left and I had a little wedge. I was hoping I wouldn't miss the green. I had a perfect number. I put it to about 5-foot and holed the putt. “It felt good.”

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