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12th February 2015 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

‘Oven Putter” puts Garcia in front

Sunshine Ladies TourNicole Garcia has the perfect opportunity to make a big play for a maiden pro title after she opened up a big gap on the chasing pack with a five-under-par 67 in the first round of the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies on Thursday.

The recent Ladies European Tour graduate was level at the turn, but then her ‘Oven Putter’ got hot and she scorched the back nine at Glendower Golf Club in 31 strokes.

Garcia notched three birdies and an eagle-three at the 15th to put a useful three stroke cushion between herself and defending champion Ashleigh Simon, four-time European Tour winner Rebecca Hudson from Britain and reigning Sanlam SA Women’s Amateur champion, Ivanna Samu.

“I guess that putter is like any typical oven; it just needed some time to warm up,” Garcia said.

The putter in question was specifically designed for Garcia by Nike during the 2014 US Women’s Open, but she never used it. The 24-year-old Ebotse player threw the putter in the bag when she left for Morocco in December last year, though, and it served her equally well at the Ladies European Tour’s Q-School.

She won the First Stage Qualifier and earned full privileges for 2015 with a fifth place finish at Final Stage.

Garcia hit it close on 11 and tapped in for a birdie, boxed a 20-footer at the par-five 13th for another gain and hit a drive and a four-iron to three feet and rolled in the putt for eagle at 15. She drained a two-footer at the 16th for birdie number three before she parred her way home.

Simon is taking a three-week break from the LPGA Tour to support the Sunshine Ladies Tour.

The 25-year-old only arrived on home soil on Wednesday and was a little frustrated after five birdies and three drops at her home course.

“I felt it should have been better, but I am glad I made those birdies coming home to finish under par,” said Simon, a three-time winner in the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies last season.

“I felt fine at the start of the round, but I hit a wall midway down the back nine. I am only three off the pace, so I will be ready to challenge after a good night’s rest.”

Hudson won the South African Women’s Open in 2006 and loves to compete in South Africa.

“I think South Africa has the monopoly on all the best courses in the world, and we get to play most of them,” the Brit said. “I mean, from Lost City to Glendower to Fancourt and Royal Cape. It’s such a privilege to come out here and play the Sunshine Ladies Tour.

“I haven’t played since December, but I’m happy that my short game is getting sharper.”

Samu was thrilled with her fast start at Glendower, although she too, kept her expectations in check.

“This is a huge learning curve for me, but it is really nice to be among the frontrunners,” said the 16-year-old Ruimsig junior. “I just want to absorb as much as possible and learn as much as I can about course management. It’s great to watch the pros plot their way around Glendower; positioning is everything at this course.”

Newly-crowned Sun International Ladies Challenge champion Stacy Bregman opened with a 71 and shares fifth with Bryanston amateur Kaleigh Telfer.

The 16-year-old, who became the first Olympian to represent South Africa at the Summer Youth Olympics alongside Kyle McClatchie last year, was flawless through the front nine. She led the field at three under through the turn, but found the back nine much tougher.

“The back-to-back bogeys at the first and second really hurt me, but I managed to erase two more bogeys with birdies to limit the damage,” Telfer said.

The Sun International Ladies Challenge and Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies at Glendower forms part of the seven-leg Sunshine Ladies Tour, which culminates from March 20-22 with the end-of-season Investec Cup for Ladies, which boasts a R100,000 prize fund and R600,000 bonus pool.

PHOTO – Nicole Garcia; credit Catherine Kotze / SASPA.