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WEETABIX WIDE OPEN AS MATTHEW STRUGGLES ON CLOSING HOLES



Scotland's Catriona Matthew battled through
torrential rain to take a one shot lead on nine under par heading into the final round of the 1 million Weetabix Women's British Open at Sunningdale
GC. But she rues the fact that play was not suspended early enough and that she dropped three shots in the final four holes, including missing a
two-foot putt at the 18th.

Matthew, who carded a level par 72, heads three players including compatriot
Janice Moodie, who returned a 71, England's Lora Fairclough and South Korean
Mi Hyun Kim.

One shot further adrift is World number one Karrie Webb and England' s Trish
Johnson, with local favourite Laura Davies in the mix at six under, tied with American Rosie Jones.

Matthew, the second round leader, began her day in blistering fashion with birdies at the second and seventh to extend her cushion. And at the ninth, the 31-year-old from North Berwick fired her third 'non-par-five' eagle of the week at the reachable par four ninth, hitting driver to 20 feet, rolling the putt home for a five shot cushion.

But the timing of the weather put paid to an unassailable lead as heavy rain fell over the heathland course, flooding the greens and causing a delay in play for the leaders.

Matthew felt the full effect of the weather as she bogeyed the 11th and 12th to move back to the chasing pack. But a fine birdie two at the downhill 13th restored hope.

Play continued for an hour through the heaviest of downpours before it was eventually called off at 6.05pm. The players remained on the course, and when play resumed at 6.45pm, Matthew carded bogeys at the 15th, three putting from the front of the green, and the 16th, hitting her drive into the fairway bunker.

And at the final hole, Matthew, hoping to become the first Scot to win a Women's Major championship, missed her par putt from inside a yard to fall back to the field.

"The rain didn't help," said Matthew, "When I returned from the delay, I struggled a little bit with the pace of the greens. I played really well on the front nine and struggled coming home.

"We had to wait five minutes on every green for the staff to squeegee the greens before we could putt and that doesn't help either. But I still shot level par and have a one shot lead, what better place is there to be?"

Fairclough, who completed her round in the best of the weather, began the day at three under and set out in solid fashion. The 31-year-old from Chorley carded birdies at the second and third to turn in 34, lobbing in three more at the 10th, 11th and 14th to move into contention for her first win on Tour since the 1998 German Open.

Fairclough closed with a flawless five under 67 and is in with a genuine chance to win her first major.

"My play was really steady," said Fairclough, "No fireworks, but I just didn't really make a couple of putts, I was disappointed with that, but I just plugged along and enjoyed it."

Moodie struggled to make any headway on her front nine, turning in 36. But the Glaswegian, who plays mainly on the LPGA Tour, returned a one under par 35 on her back nine for a 71 with birdies at the 14th and 17th.

The 28-year-old is hoping to go one place better than the Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year where she tied for second behind Annika Sorenstam.

Kim, a little over five feet tall, showed that size does not matter as she kept herself in the hunt with a level par 72. Despite not being the longest hitter, the 1999 LPGA Rookie of the year is a threat, having won three times in America.

World number one Webb has overcome her jet lag and moved into contention for
her third straight major championship with a third round four under 68.

The 26-year-old from Queensland, who didn't arrive in Sunningdale until Tuesday evening for this event after playing in a made-for-TV special in California with Tiger Woods, David Duval and Annika Sorenstam, carded five birdies and a solitary bogey to move to seven under before the rain fell.

"I don't feel like I am at the top of my game right now, but I am just managing the swings and avoiding really bad misses," said Webb. "The only difference to the first two days is I really haven't got into any trouble, and I have hit a lot of greens."

Having won the Women's US Open and the LPGA Championship this year, Webb, should she win, will become only the sixth player in the history of golf to
win three majors in a row, following Babe Zaharias (1950), Ben Hogan (1953),
Mickey Wright (1961/62), Pat Bradley (1985/86) and of course Tiger Woods
(2000).

Johnson began the day in sprightly fashion with an opening birdie, but in Faldo-esque fashion, the Bristol-born player rattled off thirteen straight pars, before firing a five wood close enough for her second birdie to move to nine under.

But the 36-year-old gave it straight back after finding the fairway bunker from the 16th tee, and dropped a further shot at the final hole, pulling her approach shot into the greenside trap and missing from 15 feet for par.

But despite having her season plagued with injury, the Solheim Cup star is now ready for her first major championship.

"I'm frustrated, of course, but it is just one of these things," said Johnson, who lost in this years final of the Sunningdale Foursomes with playing partner Jamie Spence from the European Tour.

"A low score tomorrow and I will still have a chance."

Davies carded a three under 69 to try and grab the final two points for entry into the LPGA Hall of Fame by winning this week. But the 38-year-old from nearby West Byfleet admits that she needs her putter to heat up.

"I played really well," said Davies, who has won four Major championships. "My ball striking is probably some of the best stuff I have played in my life, I am really 'mullering' it, but I just can't make a putt at the moment. But if I make some putts tomorrow, I think I will win because I am playing as well as anyone."

The army of British supporters who have braved the heavy showers and bracing
winds will be roaring on for the first home winner since Penny Grice-Whittaker in 1991.

Six players out of the top 12 have that chance including England's best amateur Rebecca Hudson who, having easily won the Smyth Salver for top amateur, continued her good play with a two under par 70 to close at five under.

 

 
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