Maybe it’s something about the air in Scotland. Just two weeks after Cameron Smith came back from four strokes behind two overnight leaders to win the Open Championship at St. Andrews, Ayaka Furue did the same to win the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open. Indeed, the 22-year-old Japanese boy did two better than Smith’s closing 64 on the Old Course. Ten birdies dotted Furue’s bogey-free final round on the Kyle Phillips-designed Dundonald Links, a best-of-week 62 that took her to a 21-under 267 total that proved to be three strokes better than anyone in the field could handle.
There were also other similarities. Just as Smith was helped by mediocre-to-mediocre play from Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland over the final 18 holes, Furue surely gained momentum thanks to Lydia Ko’s (71) generally uninspired performance and scoring. The other 54-hole leader, Celine Boutier, fared slightly better, shooting 69 to finish second, one stroke ahead of Hyo Joo Kim and Cheyenne Knight. But two stray shots in three holes from the 11th ultimately left the Frenchwoman with too much to make up for, her three-putt bogey on the 16th green ending her increasingly dim hopes.
But whatever. It was top-notch play from Furue, who graduated from the 2021 LPGA Series Q midway through her rookie season. Seeing her chance for a first win on the LPGA Tour, the seven-time winner of the LPGA Tour in Japan seized it with an extended streak of brilliant putting strokes. Guided by her Scottish caddy, Mike Scott, and clearly gripped by the kind of inspiration every golfer craves on the greens, Furue has pretty much done it all on the stretch. That’s how, to no one’s surprise, the decisive eight-footer she drilled for a final dive under par at the par-5 18th went to a standstill.
“My shots, putts and game in general were very good,” Furue said, speaking through an interpreter. “The big birdie putts that I had to make, I was able to do that. This win builds confidence and I can’t wait to play in more big tournaments, starting next week. [at the AIG Women’s Open]. I’m so happy that I was able to win in my caddie’s home country. He is always a great help to me. »
As for the desperate challengers, Boutier will perhaps feel the most frustration. But also encouragement. Missed cuts on each of her two most recent starts meant the Duke graduate arrived in Scotland in less than fair condition. But moods can change quickly on tour. Despite what turned out to be a disappointing finish, the birdie the 28-year-old Frenchwoman made on the final green to clinch second place will see her show up at Muirfield for the aforementioned Women’s Open with at least a hint of a smile. on his face.
Likewise, there have been times over the years when Ko has made great golf the easiest thing in the world. The then 17-year-old New Zealander’s memorable display of controlled shots at Royal Melbourne en route to winning the 2015 Australian Open title comes easily to mind. Later that same year, she took a six-stroke win at the Evian Masters. And a month after that first major triumph (which was already his ninth victory on the LPGA Tour), Ko won by nine strokes at the LPGA Championship in Taiwan.
But this event turned out to have nothing to do with those. Fighting back rather than performing at anything close to her imperious best, Ko’s closing effort saw her retire tied for fifth alongside American Alison Lee. Already 14 under par after 36 holes, his weekend play was mostly characterized by his inability to create many realistic birdie chances. It just wasn’t his day (or days).
That, along with just about everything else, belonged to Ayaka Furue.