When Louise Duncan trundled in a birdie putt on Carnoustie’s final green to finish her third round of the AIG Women’s Open with a flourish, the roar was so load, the din probably rattled the crockery in the West Kilbride clubhouse.

The fairy tale continues. In the final major of the year, Duncan could conjure one of the greatest stories in golf. While the Scandinavian duo of Anna Nordqvist and Nanna Koerstz Madsen lead on nine-under going into today’s closing round, the 21-year-old Ayrshire amateur is just two shots back in a tie for fourth on seven-under after a fine four-under 68.

In the week that the powers-that-be unveiled an injection of cash that makes this particular showpiece the richest in women’s golf, the idea of Duncan winning and not getting a single penny of the £642,000 first prize due to her amateur status drew a typically dry response from the self-deprecating Scot. “I’ll be drowning my sorrows with tears rolling down my face,” said the reigning Women’s Amateur champion with a wry smile at the prospect of life changing sums passing her by.

The last amateur winner of a major championship was Catherine Lacoste in the 1967 US Women’s Open. There have been three amateur winners of the Women’s Open but that was in the event’s formative years when it didn’t have major status. Whatever happens today, Duncan will probably get hoisted jubilantly back to Ayrshire on a sedan chair.

Ahead of her first outing in a professional event, Duncan suggested that her ambitions were “not to embarrass myself”. With 18 holes to go, those aspirations are a bit different. “I've got a decent chance,” she said of her title tilt. “Just keep the bogeys off the card and I think I'll have a good shot.”

Brought up on the links of West Kilbride, and competing on an amateur circuit that is heavily laden with seaside venues, the stage could not be more perfect for Duncan. “I think it is definitely an advantage playing links golf,” she added. “I’ve hardly played any parkland golf at all this year.”

Duncan has thrived among the global stars and another composed and confident performance of craft, class and courage kept her at the sharp end. If the Carnoustie rain came down in torrents at times, it was nothing compared to the shower of acclaim that landed on Duncan. Nerves are part and parcel of this game but the young Scot has harnessed that nervous energy to fine effect. “The nerves do seem to be helping me, surprisingly, because previously they haven't,” Duncan noted. “But I think everyone can see that. I’ve been able to control them and hit the shots when I need to. I will be just doing the exact same in the last round. A couple of deep breaths before every shot and just take one shot at a time.”


That canny approach has served her well. A raking putt of over 30-feet for a birdie on the 15th got the galleries roused before a 6-iron into 15-feet on the last set up a closing birdie which sparked a hearty hoopla. “To have everyone supporting me and cheering me on like that is just phenomenal,” she said.

Nordqvist has some local support herself. As the daughter-in-law of former Dundee United goalkeeper Hamish, the Swedish Solheim Cup stalwart has a few Scottish voices cheering her on. Her brilliant seven-under 65 – the best of the championship – was a real treat as the two-time major winner came hurtling up the order with a seven birdie blitz.

The pick of that bunch came on the 17th where Nordqvist launched an approach from around 230 yards to 15-feet and rolled in the putt. “That was an amazing birdie,” she smiled.

Madsen illuminated her 68 with an eagle on the 12th as the Dane bolstered her bid for a maiden major while Lizette Salas, another player hunting down a breakthrough, finished a shot off the pace on eight-under after a 70.

Duncan was joined on the seven-under mark by Sanna Nuutinen, Madelene Sagstrom and the world No 5 Lexi Thompson while Yealima Noh, who was leading at 10-under with three holes to play, shipped four shots coming in to slither back to six-under.

It wasn’t the best day at the office either for joint overnight leaders Georgia Hall and Mina Harigae. Hall, the 2018 champion, slipped back to six-under with a 73 while Harigae plummeted to three-under after a 76.