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Stephanie Meadow relishes all her major battles

By Peter Hutcheon

For someone who has taken the game of golf by storm, Stephanie Meadow is keeping her feet firmly on the ground.

The 22-year-old from Jordanstown was one of the early starters in today's Women's British Open at Royal Birkdale, out just after 6.40am this morning.

It might be only her third start as a professional, but such has been the impact she has made in the past month or so, it would surprise no-one if she was at the sharp end of the championship once again come Sunday afternoon.

And maintaining a level head has been key to the early success which has seen her finish in a tie for third place in each of her two professional tournaments so far.

"It has been a whirlwind start," she said, speaking from Birkdale last night. "But I think when I have been out on the course I have been able to concentrate on just playing and that helps me to block out everything else that has been going on.

"Mentally I have been really strong and that has definitely made the difference. To me, when I get out on the golf course that's when I can go out and relax and enjoy what I am doing."

Meadow has just been handed an invite to the Women's PGA, the year's fourth and final major championship which should ensure that she earns her full playing rights on the LPGA Tour.

Going into the Open she has already demonstrated her big match temperament with her performance at last month's US Open. She is without doubt the woman in form after her blistering closing round of 63 – her best ever – last Sunday to take a share of third in the Ladies' European Masters in Buckinghamshire – and she followed that the next day with a five under round of 69 at Southport & Ainsdale to claim her place in the field for Birkdale.

And having grown up playing Royal Portrush, she knows a thing or two about links golf.

"This is the first time I have played Birkdale, and I was lucky enough to get in an extra practice round when I was asked at the last minute to fill in for the Pro-Am yesterday," she said.

"That took a little pressure off practice today. Definitely playing so much at Portrush is going to be an advantage for someone like me as opposed to the girls who don't get to play as much links golf.

"I did have to hit a few shots here that maybe I haven't had to hit judging the wind in a little while, but it's amazing how it comes back to you."

Meadow was out in the second group this morning, teeing off at 6.41am, with Frenchwoman Gwladys Nocera and American Lexi Thompson who, like Meadow is something of a prodigy having been the youngest player ever to qualify for the US Women's Open at the age of only 12.

She is also the current Kraft Nabisco champion and she tied for seventh place behind Meadow's third at this year's US Women's Open. Meadow is heading home to Northern Ireland for a two-week break after Birkdale and will then head back to the States where she is certain to pick up a couple more sponsors' invitations before the LPGA.

"It's all been a bit of a dream," she said. "You can never tell how things are going to work out, but I never in a million years thought that when I turned professional two of the first three events I played would be majors."

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy believes it would be foolish to write off Tiger Woods' chances of winning the Open next week, although he thinks Hoylake could also provide one of his best chances of lifting the Claret Jug.

Woods won the Open the last time it was staged at Royal Liverpool in 2006, but has not won a major since the 2008 US Open and only returned to action last month following back surgery on March 31.

"We have all witnessed what Tiger has been able to do over his career, whether that's come back from injury and win, come back from any sort of off-course stuff and win," McIlroy said ahead of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.

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