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Kylie Walker bitten hard on first green as brutal Birkdale shows its teeth

It is the oldest maxim in tournament golf that you can't win a major on the first day but you can certainly lose one.

Lying low is the best policy in tricky conditions at Royal Birkdale as Brittany Lang of the USA lines up a putt on the 11th green. Picture: Nigel Roddis/Reuters
Lying low is the best policy in tricky conditions at Royal Birkdale as Brittany Lang of the USA lines up a putt on the 11th green. Picture: Nigel Roddis/Reuters

Kylie Walker went one better than that at Royal Birkdale yesterday, all but dynamiting her chances of success in the Ricoh Women's ­British Open at the very first hole.

Birkdale's opener is tough enough at the best of times, but the degree of difficulty was cranked up yesterday by the combination of a tight fairway, rough so dense and deep that you would caution small children against wandering into it for fear you would never see them again, and a wind that started off tetchy and just got more troublesome as the day wore on.

It was Walker's misfortune to have been given a mid-afternoon tee time. Players in the groups immediately ahead of her had run up bogeys, double-bogeys and triple-bogeys at the par-4 first, but the 27-year-old Glaswegian raised the bar with a quintuple-bogey 9. Stephen King could scarcely have penned a more gruesome beginning than she did.

It began with a ball hit out of bounds off the right. Playing 3 off the tee, her next shot almost suffered the same fate, but the relief she felt when it stopped a yard short must have evaporated when she saw her lie in the rough. From there, she could only hack out, although she overcooked that effort and looked on despairingly as her ball flew into an equally unforgiving patch of spinach on the opposite side of the fairway.

It took two more swipes to mano­euvre the ball on to the green. After which, the script demanded - and got - only one possible outcome. She three-putted.

To spare Walker's blushes, who finished with a 10-over 82, it ought to be pointed out that her woes at the first were not the worst Birkdale delivered as Britain's premier event returned to its achingly picturesque folds and fairways for the first time since 2010. That dubious honour belonged to Holly Aitchison, a 27-year-old from Bedford, who was teased by the eagle she took at the par-5 sixth and then tortured by the sextuple-bogey 9 she ran up at the par-3 12th.

Nor were such toils and travails the sole preserve of the home contingent. America's Brooke Pancake may have the best name in women's golf, but she must have felt as flat as her ­splendid moniker suggested after thrashing out her round of 83. In fact, it was no day at all for those with spectacular apellations, as Thai duo Titiya Plucksataporn and Patcharajutar Kongkraphan demonstrated with matching 78s.

Nobody would deny that the bright skies and warm sunshine at Birkdale made it a lovely day for a walk along the Lancashire coastline, but course conditions rather spoiled the enjoyment for those obliged to interrupt their perambulations with the occasional swipe at a golf ball. Only a handful of players came through ­relatively unscathed, but it would be no great surprise to admirers of her tidy style and game management skills that Scotland's own Catriona Matthew was one of them.

The North Berwick 44-year-old two-over-par round of 74 left her six off the pace set by Japan's Ayako Uehara, but she posted it a time of day when most scores were already heading northwards. She also reached that mark after starting out badly as she bogeyed the first. The overall impression was of a round crafted in defiance of nasty odds.

"It was tricky out there," said Matthew. On a day when only nine players broke par, it was a golfing understatement on a par with the observation that Rory McIlroy can hit the occasional nice shot or that Tiger Woods has had an interesting private life.

"I'm not surprised by the scoring. If you miss the fairway and go into a bunker then at least you know you can get it out of there, but the rough is just brutal. I was a yard off the fairway on the left at the first and had to take an unplayable. It puts a big premium on hitting the fairway.

"There wasn't much wind, but there was enough to make it tricky in places. But I was thinking that if I found it tough then everyone would be finding it tough. You just have to try and stay patient and not get too annoyed. If you do get into trouble you just have to get out of it and give yourself a chance."

Matthew has certainly done that. If yesterday's weather pattern is repeated today then she could make a significant move. The 2009 champion will tee off at 6.52, the very slot that Uehara enjoyed for the opening round. Uehara will set off at 11.37. You rather hope that the wind does not pick up too much for she is built along such diminutive lines that a decent gust could pluck her off the fairway and deposit her in Lytham St Annes. You will find rabbits in the dunes that are bigger than she is.

Uehara has won three times in Japan, but has not exactly set the golfing world on fire on her trips abroad. No disrespect, but the expectation around Birkdale is that she will fall back today. If true, there are bigger - in every sense - threats in the leading group of players.

Stacy Lewis, for one. The world's bestp player is just three shots back from Uehara, a gap that could easily be closed in the course of one hole. Mo Martin and Morgan Pressel are also hanging around the leaderboard and could well make a move. The pity for Walker is that it will take a very big move indeed just to keep her in the tournament after today.

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