5 things to watch for at the AIG Women’s British: A Cinderella returns, Solheim Cup drama and a ‘Car-nasty finish’

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Not a single shot has been struck in the fifth and final major of the year yet, but the tournament is already buzzing after the AIG Women’s British Open announced a purse increase of $1.3 million to $5.8 million, making it the largest prize in women’s golf.

What’s more, in 2022 the purse will increase by another $1 million to $6.8 million when the event moves to Muirfield for the first time.

“We believe that this action to make changes sends a strong signal that more needs to be done,” said Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, “and I believe can be done, by everyone involved in our sport.”

On that high note, here are five things to look for this week at the Women’s British Open.

A Cinderella returns

AIG Women's Open
AIG Women's Open

Sophia Popov of Germany tees off on the 8th during the pro-am prior to the 2021 AIG Women's Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

There’s a video on loop in the Carnoustie clubhouse of 2020 champion Sophia Popov and the German joking suggested that everyone is now fed up of seeing her.

“Normally I'm way too humble of a person to even identify with something like that,” said Popov, “but I know this week I can, so I'm just taking it all in. I'm like, yep, I'm defending. So I'm getting better at just accepting that and being all cool about it.”

The AIG Women’s British Open returns to Carnoustie for the first time since 2011, which happened to be Popov’s first British Open appearance. She made the cut that week as an 18-year-old college student at USC. Little did she know that she’d return one day as one of golf’s great Cinderella stories.

“Like you only realize it once you get on-site and you do see your face everywhere and you realize, oh, my God, it's been a year now and this is the event that changed so much for me,” said Popov, who has cemented herself as one of Europe’s best players.

“I think up until last week, it was just a regular season and just keep playing, keep playing. And then once I kind of set foot out here, it was like, OK, I'm coming here to truly enjoy this week, you know, regardless of what happens. This is my sixth or seventh week on the road now so obviously it's kind of the highlight of the summer for or less for myself.”

Solheim madness

2021 European Solheim Cup Captain Announcement
2021 European Solheim Cup Captain Announcement

Catriona Matthew of Scotland is named as the 2021 European Solheim Cup Captain during the 2021 European Solheim Cup Captain Announcement at Gleneagles on November 14, 2019 in Auchterarder, Scotland. Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

It’s the final event of qualifying for the 2021 Solheim Cup and European captain Catriona Matthew is right in the thick of it as she’s in the field at Carnoustie. Matthew said it’s actually quite nice to get on the golf course and forget about the six picks that are in front of her, though she will get a front-row seat to the game of Madelene Sagstrom, who would need a pick to get to Inverness next month.

“Obviously it's on my mind and like you say, you're looking at players stats and how they have been doing,” said Matthew. “Obviously I have a few players I have my eye on this, week and it's going to be an interesting week and to be honest I'll be quite glad when it's all over and I can concentrate on the Solheim.”

Those Europeans probably needing to make a good impression this week include Bronte Law, Nanna Koerstz Madsen, Alice Hewson and Caroline Masson, who actually led going into the final round at Carnoustie in 2011.

And now, for the Americans

Trust Golf Women's Scottish Open
Trust Golf Women's Scottish Open

Brittany Altomare at the 2021 Trust Golf Women's Scottish Open at Dumbarnie Links, St Andrews. Photo by Malcolm Mackenzie/PA Wire

Ally Ewing became the third U.S. player to clinch a sport on Pat Hurst’s team with her final-round 63 at last week’s Trust Golf Scottish Open. Ewing joins Nelly Korda and Danielle Kang as players who have mathematically qualified. Brittany Altomare, now eighth on the points list, must finish in the top 10 at Carnoustie to have a chance at jumping into the top seven. Megan Khang currently holds the seventh spot. Jennifer Kupcho, who is currently in off of the Rolex Rankings, must finish sixth or better this week to move into the top seven while assistant captain Angela Stanford must finish in the top two. Mina Harigae, Stacy Lewis, Yealimi Noh, Amy Olson, Lizette Salas, Angel Yin, Marina Alex, Ryann O'Toole and Lauren Stephenson must win to earn a spot. There are four American players ranked within six spots of each other. The top two players in the Rolex Rankings not already qualified on points automatically make the team. That bunched list includes: Salas (25), Kupcho (27), Noh (29) and Olson (31).

'Car-nasty' finish

Ricoh Women's British Open 2011
Ricoh Women's British Open 2011

In-Kyung Kim of South Korea hits her approach shot on the 17th hole during the second round of the 2011 Ricoh Women's British Open at Carnoustie on July 29, 2011 in Carnoustie, Scotland. Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

When Yani Tseng won by four strokes at 16 under in 2011, some felt famed links course known as "Car-nasty" wasn’t set up tough enough in benign conditions. Hopefully the wind presents more of a challenge in 2021 but regardless, the finish will already be tougher with 17th now playing as a par 4. (It was a par 5 in 2011.) “When you talk about Carnoustie, you think about those last four holes,” said Slumbers. “For those of you that watch championship golf here, 14 is the last chance on Sunday to make a move. We know that. We set the golf course up on 14 to do that, and we will do that on Sunday, as well, but then you have got to hang on. “Arguably one of the greatest holes in links golf awaits you on 17. It doesn't really matter whether it's downwind or into the wind. You're going to have the same yardage for your second shot regardless because carrying the burn on the other side is not really an option. But it's a proper par 4. It's a par 4-point-something. And I think it will be the hardest hole on the golf course come Sunday night.”

Is it Lydia's time?

AIG Women's Open
AIG Women's Open

Lydia Ko of New Zealand tees off on the 13th hole during the pro-am ahead of the 2021 AIG Women's Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

On the heels of a bronze medal finish in Tokyo, Lydia Ko fired a final-round 63 at the Scottish Open to finish in a share of second. Could a third major title be on the horizon?

“One of my I guess strategies at the Olympics was to play a little bit more aggressively,” said Ko, “especially because there is only three medalists, and I think that was kind of the mindset and then I continued that for when I played last week. I think last week some of the par 5s were definitely reachable. I hit driver, 9-iron the par 5 15th on the second or third day.

“So obviously it's very different, like Dumbarnie was great and a really good lead-up for this week but it's also a very different type of golf course to here. … I think I'm just trying to stay in that kind of strategy of playing aggressively but at the same time, if I am out of position, making sure that I'm not making careless mistakes.”

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