Scottish amateur Louise Duncan surges into contention at Women’s Open

The final major of 2021 may deliver the most extraordinary story of all. In among the big names on a gloriously tight leaderboard at the Women’s Open sits Louise Duncan, the 21-year-old amateur champion. The only time Duncan had cause to frown on day three here was when she was reminded she is not eligible for the £640,000 bounty on offer to any professional winner. “Thanks for that,” said Duncan, a University of Stirling student. “I could be drowning my sorrows tomorrow, tears rolling down my face.”

Imagine being so tantalisingly close to such riches one cannot claim.

There would be tears of joy for family and friends should Duncan become the first amateur since 1982 to win the Women’s Open. It should be remembered this was not a major until 2001. The last amateur to win a female major was Catherine Lacoste, at the 1967 US Open.

A few days ago, Duncan had no aspirations of glory. “It would have been daft to think that,” she said. “I wasn’t hitting it great last week. So to come in and actually hit it well, and just to follow that with some nice putts, it feels really good. I’m really happy with my performance.”

The loudest roar on the Angus coast was reserved for Duncan. She converted from 15ft for a birdie at the last, cancelling out a dropped shot one hole earlier. Duncan was so in the zone that she did not even notice the level of acclaim.

Duncan’s 68 and seven under par aggregate means she sits two behind the joint leaders, Anna Nordqvist and Nanna Koerstz Madsen. The jaunty West Kilbride youngster could not‚ could she?

“I feel like how I played today, I’ve got a decent chance,” she said. “I just have keep the bogeys off the card and I’ll have a good shot.

“I will be just doing the exact same as I’ve done today. A couple of deep breaths before every shot and just take one shot at a time.” It sounds oh-so simple.

Duncan has Lexi Thompson, Madelene Sagström and Sanna Nuutinen for company at seven under. “I don’t look at leaderboards,” said Thompson. “If I see one, I look away.”

A 70 from Lizette Salas means she trails the leaders by one. Nelly Korda, the world No 1, cannot be counted out at six under. The closing stretch at Carnoustie can trigger such curious things; just ask Jean van de Velde.

Nordqvist’s 65 was the lowest round of a day that would turn increasingly dark and squally. With three Top 10 finishes in this event – including here a decade ago – she will command considerable respect from others on the leaderboard. The Swede is not inside the automatic places for Europe’s Solheim Cup team, but that would change with a victory here. Even a strong finish should be enough to confirm to the captain, Catriona Matthew, that Nordqvist should receive a pick for what would be her seventh appearance in the competition.

“That has been on my mind for a while,” Nordqvist said. “You can’t really get away from all the talk, especially between caddies trying to predict who is going to make the team or not.

“All I can focus on is what I can control and that’s me trying to play well. Then if she wants me on the team, she wants me on the team. I feel pretty good the way I’ve been playing so I’ve done everything I can.”

Georgia Hall and Mina Harigae shared the halfway lead at seven under. Hall’s 73 means she is three from the lead. Harigae signed for a 76 and three under total.

The exertions attached to making the cut seemed to catch up with Laura Davies as she slipped to a 78. “The people have been brilliant all week,” said the 57-year-old. “They are paying tribute, in a way. When you are as old as I am you become a bit of a novelty. It’s: ‘Look at old Laura over there, she’s doing well this week.’ But I have higher expectations of myself than others do. Maybe I need to work on that. I turned up this morning, tried too hard and got in my own way. The brain is chasing cheques the body can’t keep up with.”

At least, for Davies, there will be a cheque. Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, the same cannot be said of Duncan. Ouch.

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