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26th January 2017 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

Pace mounts case for SA Women’s Open hat-trick

Lee-Anne Pace proved once again that form is temporary, but class is permanent when she capitalised on a blistering start to take the first round lead in the SA Women’s Open, sponsored by the Ray Nkonyeni Municipality, on Thursday.

Pace may have struggled for form in the SA Women’s Masters last week, but with the trusty Scotty Cameron putter back in the bag, the two-time defending champion was at her vintage best on a sun-kissed day at San Lameer Country Club.

She made the most of the calm conditions to fire a six-under-par 66 to open up a two stroke lead over Monique Smit.

The Fancourt golfer was equally impressive with five birdies and an eagle at the par five eighth to finish ahead of fellow Sunshine Ladies Tour winner Stacy Bregman.

Kiran Matharu erased a double bogey start with birdies at eight and 10 and moved into contention with back-to-back gains at 16 and 17. The Englishwomen signed for a 70 to finish shot clear of compatriot and former champion Rebecca Hudson.

Carrie Park from South Korea, who celebrated a maiden Sunshine Ladies Tour victory in the SA Women’s Masters title last Saturday, clocked in at even-par.

Pace couldn’t have hoped for a better start as she aims to become the first three-time winner of the national championship.

A birdie at the opening hole gave the 35-year-old Paarl golfer the perfect start and she pushed into an early tie for the lead with three successive putts from the third. Further gains at eight and 12 saw her leave Smit behind. Although a bogey at the short 16th spoiled her perfect card, but finished in style with a birdie at the final hole.

“The putter definitely made a huge difference,” Pace said. “I wanted to try the two-ball putter, so I used it at the SA Women’s Masters last week, but I just couldn’t get a grip on the pace. I spoke to Ashleigh (Buhai), who knows my game really well, and she told me to go back to the blade putter.

“So I threw out to the two-ball and put the Scotty Cameron back in the bag. I had a really fantastic day on the greens. I actually hit the ball better in Cape Town than today, but that will improve over the next two days.

“The lack of wind also helped, especially at the tougher holes and the course is not as wet as it has been in the past years. The wind was blowing from the same direction as during the pro-am, but it was nothing like that 35 km gale we braved on Wednesday.

“I lost a little focus on the back nine and hit it in the hazard at 16, but I made a great chip so it was a good four. There is still room for improvement, but I’m just really happy to have started strong to give myself a shot at the hat-trick.”

Smit, who lost a huge amount of weight since end of the 2016 Sunshine Ladies Tour last March, was positively glowing after her opening round.

“To carry 20 kg less around this course is eye-opener,” she laughed. “I feel like I could go another 18 holes right now. I got a little busy with the putter at the start, but I sorted that out and I had a great time out there. The eagle at the eighth was a huge bonus, because the ball ran past the flag and spun back off the slope, leaving me a short putt for a three. I’m just excited to be out there, hitting the ball with some freedom and it’s great to be in the mix again.”

South Africa’s third highest ranked Zethu Myeki from Border and Golf RSA number one junior Woo Ju Son from Gauteng share the amateur lead.

The pair carded rounds of 74 to tie for 11th with South African professional Mae Cornforth and Sweden’s Sofia Ljungqvist.

“That was incredible,” gushed Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation member Myeki after her SA Women’s Open debut.

“I was a little nervous playing in my first SA Women’s Open, but once I got that first tee shot away, the nerves settled. Positioning around this course is critical. I made a few wrong choices and made life tough on myself, but overall I’m happy with this start. It was so cool to see the boards on the tees and the caddie bibs; it really made you realise that you are playing in the big league now.”

Son agreed: “It definitely could have been better but it’s an improvement over last year and now I just want to improve on this.”

PHOTO – SA Women’s Open defending champion Lee-Anne Pace; credit Justin Klusener.

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