In search of Open revival - South Korea's Ko Jin-young

Gullane (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Ko Jin-young hopes to rediscover the form that catapulted her to the head of the world rankings in the Women’s British Open at the historic setting of Muirfield in Scotland.

The 27-year-old South Korean won two majors in 2019 during a meteoric rise in the women’s game and claimed five titles in scooping the majority honours on last year’s LPGA Tour.

But she has struggled to hit top form this season, her sole victory coming at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore back in March.

Ko recently spent time working with her coach back in South Korea, but a lowly finish at last week’s Scottish Open leaves her still a little mystified.

“But I am so thrilled to be here at Muirfield,” she said Wednesday on the eve of the tournament.

“I’ve always wanted to play the course and my (English) caddie told me how amazing it is.

“He’s right. It’s been a bit windy but it is very nice and I am really looking forward to the test. I think level par could win.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ko hasn’t played in a British Open since 2019, when it was staged over the parkland Woburn course in central England.

- ‘Pressure’ -

But she has form on Scottish links having finished runner-up to Park Inbee at Turnberry in 2015.

“I do enjoy links courses and it’s nice to be back,” Ko added. “When I was a young girl I always wanted to be the world No 1 and I can’t really believe that I have made it. But there is a little bit of pressure.”

England’s Georgia Hall, meanwhile, is relishing a return to links golf.

Hall won the British Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 2018 and was joint-second behind Anna Nordqvist at Carnoustie last year.

“I have never been to Muirfield before but the British is always my highlight of the year,” said Hall. “I always have confidence playing on links courses.”

Muirfield has been host to 16 men’s British Opens but the club has not always been so welcoming to women and received widespread criticism with a vote to maintain an all-male membership policy in 2016.

- Backlash -

Following the backlash, the decision was overturned in 2017 and five years on the best women’s golfers in the world will play in a landmark tournament.

In good company - England's 2018 Women's British Open champion Georgia Hall (2L) played with (from L-R) former men's British Open winners Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Lee Trevino at St Andrews last month

Hall’s highlight so far this season was playing alongside Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lee Trevino in the Celebration of Champions at St Andrews prior to the men’s British Open three weeks ago.

“It was such an honour,” she said. “Meeting Tiger on the putting green was the best bit, and I was very, very nervous. I was scared I would top it on the first tee. But we only played a few holes and the the whole thing was over far too quickly.”

Still a teenager, Atthaya Thitikul is the fastest rising star in the women’s game.

The Thai 19-year-old finished top amateur at the Women’s British Open both in 2018 and 2019 and, in her first year on the LPGA circuit, is already ranked No 6 in the world, with her first win coming in March.

“We don’t have any links courses in Thailand and when I first played in the event at Kingsbarns in 2017 I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I hate it’,” recalled Thitikul. “But, at the same time, I like it as well.

“If the wind blows it is going to be very tricky, but I’m looking forward to facing a tough challenge.”