We preview the AIG Women's Open as the world's best golfers head for Carnoustie to vie for their final Major title of the year with $4.5m on the line.
Carnoustie stages the 45th Women’s Open from August 19-22 as Germany's Sophia Popov attempts to defend the maiden Major title she won at Royal Troon in 2020.
It's just the second time the world-famous links has hosted the event and comes a decade after Yani Tseng – then the dominant force in women’s golf – successfully defended her title on the Championship Course, beating Brittany Lang by four strokes.
Coincidentally, Popov made her debut at that event, but was beaten to the Smyth Salver (the leading amateur prize) by current World No.5 Danielle Kang.
“I love Carnoustie," Popov said. "It's an incredible course. Carnoustie was the site of my first Women's Open, so I have great memories there playing as an amateur and I love that place. So it really doesn't get any better than that.”
“I'm excited to go back and defend my title, but I really don't want to give this trophy away, so I'm going to do everything in my power to keep it.”
The field is made up of 120 players but Nelly Korda arrives in Scotland as the clear favourite to win her second Major and her fifth title of the year. The 22-year-old, who took the gold medal for USA at Tokyo 2020, is the World No.1 and won her maiden Major title at the the KPMG PGA Championship in July.
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Unlike 2020, whoever lifts the trophy in 2021 will do so in front of a crowd, with 8,000 fans allowed to attend each day following support from the Scottish Government as part of its Events Gateway Process.
“We and our partners at AIG were incredibly proud of what we achieved for women’s golf at the AIG Women’s Open last year, and we will always remember Sophia Popov’s outstanding victory, but in 2021 fans are what will elevate the AIG Women’s Open from memorable to truly special," said Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A.
“Fans are so important to major sporting championships; they create atmosphere, they celebrate greatness and commiserate heartbreak, they bring passion and excitement. We are truly delighted to welcome spectators back to the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie.”
Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods call it the toughest golf course on The Open rota; others simply refer to it as golf’s greatest test. Even in ideal scoring conditions, Carnoustie is still one of the most unforgiving Major championship venues, a reputation bolstered by its length and its many notable scalps.
Sergio Garcia was famously reduced to tears in 1999 when he hacked it round in 89-83 to miss the cut – and we all know what happened to Jean van de Velde on his 72nd hole in the Barry Burn.
Since that week when 101 scores were returned in the 80s, the club has been fighting to shed its ‘Carnasty’ nickname. They went the wrong way at the 2011 Women’s Open after the shorter Championship Course set-up was blamed for taking all the jeopardy – including the bunkers and the Burn – out of play on the 18th.
The club later admitted to presenting players with a “watered-down version” of Carnoustie – a mistake which Craig Boath, Course Superintendent, says won’t be repeated this year. “There was a bit of nervousness about making it too tough, primarily because it was the first time the women had played the course,” he tells TG.
“This year we’ve added more length and reduced the par from 72 to 71. We’re using a lot more back tees as well so it will certainly present a lot more of a challenge.”
A dry summer has meant the fairways are already running fast and firm at Carnoustie, which may be just as well since the course will play 360 yards longer than in 2011. Nearly 50 yards has been added to the 18th, while the 17th has lost just three yards despite being converted from a par 5 to a par 4.
Boath is still expecting the winning score to par to be in single digits, though don’t be surprised to see players getting swallowed up by the many bunkers (112 in total) and burns if the fairways continue to dry out.
There’s even a chance we could see some players hitting driver off the par-3 16th if the wind gets up. You really can’t rule anything out at Carnoustie.
What we can rule out is the chancew of Karrie Webb and Karen Stupples seeing their Women's Open scoring record broken. The pair both recorded 19-under par totals (269 strokes) in 1997 and 2004 respectively.
What makes Carnoustie's 18th so hard?
“Out of bounds left off the tee, water left, water right, water short, bunkers straight in front of you. All the complications off the tee that you can possibly think of," said Padraig Harrington, 2007 Open winner at Carnoustie.
"The second shot, you can hit the green and go out of bounds. It’s the most difficult closing hole in Major championship golf and probably in world golf.”
What do the history books say?
Golfing greats Allan Robertson, Old Tom Morris and James Braid have all left their fingerprints on the Championship course, but it was James Wright, an accountant by trade and chairman of the Links Committee, who had the biggest impact.
He took it upon himself to redesign the last three holes in 1937, and so created what is widely regarded as the toughest stretch in championship golf. The 16th was dubbed the hardest par 3 in the world by Tom Watson, while the 18th is best remembered for Jean van de Velde blowing a three-stroke lead on his final hole in 1999 and then losing in a play-off.
What does it take to win at Carnoustie?
“The person that’ll win the Women’s Open will be a good ball-striker, who can keep their ball on the fairway and plays the percentages," said Craig Boath, Course Superintendent. "The wind can easily catch you out, so you’ve got to keep thinking about your positioning for the next shot because the fairways run and run and can bring the rough and hazards into play.
"The bunkering is probably the biggest defence, and you’ve got to make your scoring on the first six holes because the final stretch is all about holding on.”
Women's Open preview: Carnoustie's key holes
Championship Course | Par 71 | 6,850 yards
Hole 6: Hogan’s Alley – Par 5, 520 yards
Often played into the wind, with OB running all the way down the left. Players can either go down ‘Hogan’s Alley’, a narrow strip of fairway to the left of the cross bunkers, or bail out to the right. The latter brings more bunkers into play, which makes the lay-up as intimidating as going for the green in two.
Hole 14: Spectacles – Par 5, 437 yards
The last par 5 on the course – and a big birdie chance. A drive over gorse down the right half, away from the OB, leaves a good angle to a long double green shared with the 4th. It’s reachable in two, but the approach plays blind because of two giant cross bunkers, which are built into a ridge.
Hole 16: Barry Burn – Par 3, 220 yards
“The hardest par 3 in the world.” That’s how Tom Watson describes it. The prevailing wind is into, which brings a pair of bunkers short left and short right into play. The long, thin green sits on a plateau but most players will aim for an area just short which kicks the ball forward.
Hole 17: Island – Par 4, 421 yards
So named because of the burn which snakes from left to right and divides a large chunk of the fairway in two. Most players will aim to lay-up short on ‘the island’, between the two stretches of water, and hit a mid to long iron to a green protected by three bunkers at the front.
Hole 18: Home – Par 4, 430 yards
Famed for being one of the most brutal finishing holes in golf. The tee shot needs to skirt the burn on the left and three bunkers on the right. Out of bounds runs tight down the left side and up to the green which is surrounded by more hazards, including the Barry Burn at the front.
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Marina Alex USA
Brittany Altomare USA
Pajaree Anannarukarn THA
Serena Aoki JPN
Pia Babnik SVN
Ana Belac SVN
Celine Boutier FRA
Ashleigh Buhai RSA
Matilda Castren FIN
Chella Choi KOR
In Gee Chun KOR
Carlota Ciganda ESP
Cydney Clanton USA
Jenny Coleman USA
Olivia Cowan GER
Gabriella Cowley ENG
Laura Davies ENG
Manon de Roey BEL
Perrine Delacour FRA
Annabel Dimmock ENG
Louise Duncan (a) SCO
Austin Ernst USA
Ally Ewing USA
Laura Fuenfstueck GER
Ayaka Furue JPN
Hannah Green AUS
Jaye Marie Green USA
Maha Haddioui MAR
Georgia Hall ENG
Erika Hara JPN
Mina Harigae USA
Leonie Harm GER
Nasa Hataoka JPN
Brooke Henderson CAN
Kylie Henry SCO
Esther Henseleit GER
Celine Herbin FRA
Alice Hewson ENG
Charley Hull ENG
Mijung Hur KOR
Nuria Iturrioz ESP
Eun Hee Ji KOR
Felicity Johnson ENG
Ariya Jutanugarn THA
Moriya Jutanugarn THA
Tsubasa Kajitani (a) JPN
Danielle Kang USA
Sarah Kemp AUS
Megan Khang USA
Alim Kim KOR
Sei Young Kim KOR
Cheyenne Knight USA
Jinyoung Ko KOR
Lydia Ko NZL
Jessica Korda USA
Nelly Korda USA
Aline Krauter (a) GER
Jennifer Kupcho USA
Steph Kyriacou AUS
Bronte Law ENG
Alison Lee USA
Andrea Lee USA
Minjee Lee AUS
Jeongeun Lee6 KOR
Stacy Lewis USA
Pernilla Lindberg SWE
Ingrid Lindblad (a) SWE
Yu Liu CHN
Gaby Lopez MEX
Nanna Koerstz Madsen DEN
Leona Maguire IRE
Lucie Malchirand FRA
Mo Martin USA
Caroline Masson GER
Catriona Matthew SCO
Wichanee Meechai THA
Gerina Piller USA
Giulia Molinaro ITA
Azahara Munoz ESP
Yealimi Noh USA
Anna Nordqvist SWE
Sanna Nuutinen FIN
Ryann O’Toole USA
Su Oh AUS
Amy Olson USA
Lee-Anne Pace RSA
Annie Park USA
Inbee Park KOR
Sung Hyun Park KOR
Emily K Pedersen DEN
Sophia Popov GER
Mel Reid ENG
So Yeon Ryu KOR
Madelene Sagstrom SWE
Lizette Salas USA
Yuka Saso PHI
Sarah Schmelzel USA
Paula Schulz-Hansen (a) GER
Hinako Shibuno JPN
Jenny Shin USA
Marianne Skarpnord NOR
Luna Sobron Galmes ESP
Jennifer Song USA
Angela Stanford USA
Lauren Stephenson USA
Jasmine Suwannapura THA
Elizabeth Szokol USA
Emma Talley USA
Patty Tavatanakit THA
Atthaya Thitikul THA
Lexi Thompson USA
Albane Valenzuela SWI
Anne van Dam NED
Lauren Walsh (a) IRE
Ursula Wikstrom FIN
Chloe Williams WAL
Christine Wolf AUT
Amy Yang KOR
Angel Yin USA
Rose Zhang (a) USA
Notable first-round tee times (all BST):
06:52 Celine Boutier (Fra), Anne van Dam (Ned), Emily K Pedersen (Den)
07:14 Amy Yang (Kor), In Chee Gun (Kor), Mel Reid (Eng)
07:47 Danielle Kang (USA), Patty Tavatanakit (Tha), A Lim Kim (Kor)
08:09 Nelly Korda (USA), Nasa Hataoka (Jpn), Charley Hull (Eng)
12:05 Sophia Popov (Ger), Sei Young Kim (Kor), Jessica Korda (USA)
12:27 Inbee Park (Kor), Yealimi Noh (USA), Leona Maguire (Irl)
12:49 Brooke Henderson (Can), Yuka Saso (Phi), Lexi Thompson (USA)
There's $4.5m dollars up for grabs at Carnoustie, the Women's Open boasting the second largest purse of the five women's Majors behind the US Open ($5.5m). The prize fund increased by 40 per cent in 2019 with the winner's share increasing to $675,000.
The prize fund for the men's Open Championship, by way of comparison, is $11.5m.
You could still be at the Women's Open with championship day tickets and weekend passes still on sale. Prices start from just £25 for adults with children aged 16 years or under before the Championship admitted free of charge.
Spectators aged 24 years or under will be entitled to purchase youth (16-24 years) tickets starting from £12.50. A £5 Mastercard discount is available per transaction. Book now at aigwomensopen.com/tickets2021
If the journey to Angus is a little too far then live TV coverage of all four rounds will be shown on Sky Sports Golf with highlights after each day’s play airing on the BBC and BBC iPlayer. BBC Radio 5Live will also keep you up to date with all of the key moments across the four days.
Non-Sky subscribers can keep up with The Open with a NOW TV pass, which is contract free and costs £20 for the month or £9.98 per day, including a month of mobile membership. Get your pass here
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Woburn's Duke's Course leads the way having hosted the event 11 times – 9 times on the Duke's Course and twice on the Marquess.
Nine times: Woburn Golf Club (Duke's Course)
Six times: Royal Birkdale Golf Club
Five times: Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club
Four times: Sunningdale Golf Club
Twice: St Andrews Links, Woburn Golf Club (Marquess Course), Turnberry Golf Club, Lindrick Golf Club
Once: Carnoustie Golf Links (hosts for a second time in 2021), Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Royal Troon Golf Club, Kingsbarns, Fulford Golf Club, Wentworth Golf Club, Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club, Ferndown Golf Club, St Mellion, Moor Park Golf Club, Northumberland Golf Club, Foxhills Golf Club
Which courses will hold the Women's Open in the future?
The final women's Major of the year heads to East Lothian to be played at Muirfield 2022 before heading south to Surrey and Walton Heath Golf Club in 2023. The Old Course at St Andrews plays host in 2024 before the women head for Walesfor the first time when Royal Porthcawl hosts the 49th playing in 2025. The venue for the 50th Women's Open is yet to be announced.