Zuel, bidding for her first professional victory, collected seven birdies – three on the front nine and four on the back – including three successive closing birdies to move clear of the 2010 champion Caroline Afonso from France.
The 21-year-old Zuel’s round of five-under-par 68 included just two blemishes on the 10th and 12th holes, but overall she was delighted with her start at the event, which has been shortened to two rounds due to heavy rain on Wednesday.
Conditions were perfect on Thursday with hardly a breath of wind in contrast to last year’s windy start and Zuel said that her putting was the best part of her game. It has improved considerably after she spent the last four months in Abu Dhabi practicing at the Saadiyat Beach golf course with her boyfriend Mark Raven, a very good putter who plays off a +3 handicap.
She has changed her grip and set up and also worked on her long game with her coach Clive Tucker last week, trying to get to her left side a little more on the downswing and she hit it solidly.
Her psychologist Chris Shambrook has been helping her to focus on the present and not get too annoyed with herself, which appears to have worked.
Zuel is one place higher than 26-year-old Afonso, from Anglet near Biarritz, who notched four bogeys, six birdies and an eagle in her round of four-under-par 69. Afonso had an eagle putt of around 10 feet on the 18th, which she played as her ninth, but missed it, compensating by holing for eagle on her last hole.
Despite her score, Afonso said that she endured some difficulty with certain parts of her game on the course. However, she has been spending time with her biomechanics coach, Jean Jacques Rivet, who is based at Terre Blanche, each afternoon.
Her swing coach, Phillipe Mendiburu, is caddying again this year after their previous success at the course and she will hope to forge ahead in Friday’s final round.
Afonso’s compatriots Sophie Giquel, the 2007 Portugal Ladies Open champion and amateur Emma Broze are in a tie for third place on three-under-par.
France’s Julie Maisongrosse and Sahra Hassan of Wales are in a tie for fifth on two-under-par along with Belgian LET rookie Bénédicte Toumpsin and French rookie Joanna Klatten after they compiled rounds of 71. Meanwhile Melodie Bourdy and Camille Fallay shared ninth on one-under-par and completed the list of seven French players in the top ten.