Two Storylines Take Centre Stage on Sunday
With such a crowded leaderboard heading into the final round at Carnoustie, there are storylines galore to follow. Some will play out, most will not – or at least they will not play out favourably. There are two, though that are worth following – the first involves the amazing play of Louise Duncan, the amateur player from Scotland who will start Sunday’s final round with a share of 4th place while playing in the third to last pairing.
She is clearly the home crowd favourite for Sunday, with Georgia Hall a close second. Her week at Carnoustie is as real a “Cinderella story” as one will find. Duncan grew up in the town of West Kilbride, located on the west side of Scotland overlooking the Firth of Clyde, picking up golf at the age of 10, joining the West Kilbride Golf Club, where her older brothers were already members.
Louise earned her ticket to this year’s AIG Women’s Open as the 2021 Women’s Amateur Champion (R&A sanction event), setting a record in the process. In the 118-year history of the event, Duncan went on to win by the largest margin ever in the finals – defeating Iceland’s Johanna Lea Ludviksdottir by a 9 & 8 margin, capturing the coveted trophy. In winning the prestigious event, Duncan became the first Scottish player to win in 24 years – some three years before she was born.
For the first two rounds of the tournament, Duncan played in a group with the 2018 AIG Women’s Open champion, Georgia Hall. The grouping had additional symbolism for Duncan as Hall was also a past winner of the Women’s Amateur Championship in 2013. After posting an opening round score of 68 (-4 under) Hall was impressed with the amateur champion playing in her first ever AIG Women’s Open.
“First time I met her (Duncan). She’s so natural, natural player. Very, very talented and just a really nice girl. I really happy that she managed to shoot such a low score today.”
Friday’s round was a bit of a hiccough for her, as she finished at 73, +1 over for the day, dropping down to -3 under for the tournament. It would not have been unusual for a young 21 year old woman playing in her first ever AIG Women’s Open to succumb to the nerves and pressure come Saturday, posting a higher score. To Duncan’s credit though, she rebounded like a champion, finishing Saturday’s round with another 68, and a share of 4th place.
She finds herself 2-shots back of the leaders when she tee’s off on Sunday and should she go on to win the event, she will be the first amateur player to capture a women’s major championship since Catherine Lacoste achieved it in 1967, winning the US Women’s Open. Looking back on her round, Duncan was appreciative of the support that Hall had extended to her during Thursday and Friday’s rounds, helping her to deal with her nerves, playing in her first major.
“She told me to just believe in myself. She was really nice all the way around both rounds. Gave me a few words of encouragement so that was really nice to hear that.”
As for her nerves, Duncan found a tactic on the course that helped her to stay more even. “I’d definitely say nerves . . . they are definitely there, and they still are there. I don’t thin they will go away tomorrow either. So just being able to handle it, take a few deep breaths over every shot has really helped.”
The second storyline involves veteran American player Lizette Salas as she finds herself in the hunt again for her first major championship. At the 2019 AIG Women’s Open, she finished second after charging up the leaderboard with a final round 65 becoming the clubhouse leader . It looked destined for a playoff before Hinako Shibuno holed a long 20 foot putt for birdie on the 18th hole for victory.
More recently, Salas found herself as the overnight leader heading into the Final Round in Atlanta earlier this year for the 2021 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. After a lengthy battle throughout the day, Salas simply could not keep up to fellow Solheim Cup teammate, Nelly Korda, who captured her first major title by posting a 68 to Salas’s 71 .
What made that event even more memorable was the news that Salas shared about her long battle with depression throughout 2020 and into the start of 2021.
At the time Salas said of her illness, “that was a really tough year for me. It was probably one of the lowest points of my career mentally, but I am so lucky to have a strong backbone and team to tell me when I'm -- just to be there for me. I think we're on an upward trend, and golf is a lot more fun right now. We're just looking forward to that Solheim Cup in a few months.”
This week at Carnoustie, Salas has flown under the radar as attention was focused on Nelly Korda's first round lead and England's Georgia Hall becoming a co-leader after the second round. Even today's round, where Anna Nordqvist's 65 for a share of the lead and amateur Louise Duncan's share of 4th place captured much of the attention, Salas quietly went about her business. After posting scores of 69 on both Thursday and Friday, Salas followed it up with a 70 to finish in sole 3rd position at -8 under and only 1-stroke behind the leaders. Heading into the final round, Salas is in contention for a major championship.
When she tees of tomorrow in the penultimate group, she will becounting on her previous experience from the 2019 AIG and this year's KPMG Women's PGA.
"I think both championships where I had a really good chance of winning . . . both can help going into tomorrow. You know, battling in that final group with Nelly back in KPMG, I learned a lot. Also in 2019, coming back from a few shots back at the British Open, that just shows that I can make a move -- I could play. I think just looking back on those experiences is going to help me just kind of stay calm and be patient tomorrow."
Louise Duncan is out at 14:25 (2:45 p.m.) with Madelene Sagstrom. Lizette Salas is off in the next group after Duncan, playing alongside Finland's Sanna Nuutinen at 14:35 (2:35 p.m.).