Lee-Anne sets early pace in SA Women’s Open

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Three-time champion Lee-Anne Pace made an eagle on her 16th hole on Thursday on her way to a two-under-par 70 in the first round of the Invested South African Women’s Open Championship at Westlake Golf Club.

That gave her a share of the lead with Lydia Hall of Wales, and the pair had a one-stroke edge over 2009 champion Tandi McCallum and fellow-South African Nicole Garcia. Sweden’s Johanna Gustavsson and India’s Tvesa Malik shared fifth on level-par.

“It was one of my goals to have a good start today,” said Pace, and, although she turned in level-par 36 after starting her round on the 10th, it turned out that two-under was more than good enough. “I did know it was playing tough, and thought that anything around level-par or a little bit under would be a good round.”

She stayed level-par after the turn until the par-five seventh, which was playing 459 metres and players have to flirt with the water if they want to make the green in two to go for the eagle. “I went for the drive to get it a bit further down there,” said Pace. “I had 220 to the pin, 190 for the front, so it was a perfect three-wood for me. It bounced straight, which was great, because you can get a wicked kick sometimes, and I made the six-foot putt.”

Pace, who took the title three times in a row at San Lameer in 2014. 2015 and 2017 – there was no tournament in 2016 – found herself feeling comfortable at Westlake. “I really enjoy the course,” she said. “I like the way it’s set up, it’s tough and you’ve really got to go out and play nice golf. The course played quite a bit tougher than usual, especially the opening holes. The course was rather wet at 8am.”

For Hall, there was also a lot of joy to be had in Westlake’s condition as she made four birdies and two bogeys on her way to her 70. “This morning, there was a little bit of mud collecting on the ball, but all in all, the course is in fantastic condition,” she said. “Never seen it so green. It’s reasonably tight off the tee, and it dictates shaping lots of shots into the greens, and off the tees as well, which I’m fairly comfortable doing. The greens are so pure. Where you start it, that’s where it goes. It stays on line.”

She started on the first, and soon picked up a shot with a birdie on the second. She turned at one-under, and then dropped a shot on the 11th. She had a purple patch with birdies on 12, 13 and 15, but she gave back a shot to par with a bogey on 16. “It was fairly solid,” she said. “I hit a lot of fairways and gave myself a lot of chances. I’m pretty happy with a two-under to start the tournament.”

For Pace, who leads the Investec Order of Merit going into this final tournament, there could be a lot on her mind, especially with four places in the US Women’s Open up for grabs. “It’s a good warm-up for the US Open, I guess,” she said. “As for the Order of Merit, I guess it’s at the back of my mind. It’s not my first priority though. That will just be a bonus for me. Winning here is the first goal.”