Hull stays aggressive, fires 66 at Birkdale


SOUTHPORT, England – Eleven shots behind at the halfway point, Charley Hull went to sleep Friday night with the belief that she still had a chance at this Women’s British Open.

A bogey-bogey start Saturday didn’t derail her optimism either, and when she emerged from the scorer’s tent after making nine birdies during a best-of-the-week 6-under 66, well, it turns out the 18-year-old was right.

She could still win this Open.

Outside the top 50 when she began her third round here at Royal Birkdale, Hull, at 1-under 215, was inside the top 10, and climbing, by the time the leaders headed to the first tee. It remains to be seen where the teen phenom will stand by nightfall, but this round was reminiscent of her Saturday 66 at the Kraft, when she pulled within two shots of the 54-hole lead (closed with 76 to finish seventh).

“I’d say this was good,” she said with a smile afterward, the type of understated response you’d expect from a player whose motto is “hit it, find it, and hit it again.”

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Like anyone in the zone on the greens, Hull said her 66 could have been even better. She grumbled after the round about her “annoying” three-putt on the par-5 17th, when she was too aggressive with her first effort from 17 feet and then lipped out the 6-foot comebacker.

And then came 18, a 473-yard par 5 that has given Hull fits during the early part of this tournament. In the opening round she pumped her tee ball out-of-bounds right, then did well just to make bogey. On Day 2, she sent another one O.B., hit her provisional within a few inches from the stakes, took an unplayable, hacked out and carded “the best 7 I’ve ever had.”

So, yeah, there was a bit of trepidation as she stood over her final tee shot of the day. Her caddie wanted her to hit 3-wood, for safety.

“I thought, 'Well, at the end of the day, that out of bounds is 60 yards right, and I’m ripping it out there,'” she said. Hull aimed left, visualized a tree-lined hole like so many at her home club at Woburn, and hit a left-to-right “slider” that set up one final birdie.

Hull admittedly is still grappling with the concept of dialing back. She plays aggressively without even realizing it. She took aim at all four of the shortish par 3s Saturday at Birkdale and birdied each one, something she didn’t discover until reviewing her scorecard in the media center. During her closing, career-best 62 in Morocco, she bashed driver “everywhere,” even into some of the tightest and most unforgiving spaces, and emerged a first-time winner.

Full throttle is often the way Lexi Thompson plays golf, yet that formula hasn’t worked here at Birkdale. Playing in the same group as Hull, the 19-year-old made five 6s – all double bogeys – during a third-round 78 and was 12 shots worse than her fellow playing competitor. She is now T-67 among the 70 players who made the cut.

Right now, Lexi is the more accomplished player – she’s No. 5 in the Rolex Rankings, compared to Hull at No. 32 – but it’s easy to envision these two studs anchoring the women’s tour for another, oh, two decades.

Lexi won her major back in April at the Kraft. Now, after the round of the tournament, Hull has positioned herself for another crack at her maiden major.