KOSTER, North West Province (20 March 2015) – The layout at Millvale Private Retreat places a premium on accuracy and no-one revelled more in the challenge than South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace, who launched her title defence in the Investec Cup for Ladies with aplomb on Friday.
Coming off back-to-back victories in the SuperSport Ladies Challenge and Ladies Tshwane Open, the world number 31 fired a four-under-par 68 to open up a yawning three shot gap on Southern Cape’s Monique Smit.
Pace has a comfortable five stroke cushion on 2015 Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies leader Melissa Eaton, four-time Sunshine Tour winner Stacy Bregman and England’s Lucy Williams, and is six strokes clear of Nicole Garcia and Sunshine Ladies Tour rookie Monja Richards.
The 33-year-old Pearl Valley golfer got off to a flying start with birdies at the second and fourth, but dropped a shot at the par-five eighth to turn one under.
She bounced back with in style with back-to-back birdies at the 10th and 11th, and notched another brace of birdies at the 14th and 15th after a four at the par-three 13th.
“I hit the ball very well from the tee and my short game was really good,” the LPGA Tour winner said.
“It is difficult to get close to the pin, and you need to stay patient out there.
“I gave myself a lot of chances, especially on the back nine and managed to make quite a few of them. I didn’t really put myself into any trouble, which is always a bonus, and it’s nice to go into the weekend with a cushion.”
Pace overshot the green at the par-five seventh and didn’t up-and-down for par, and short-sided herself at the par-three 13th.
“I wanted to cut in a four-iron and I missed it on the short side,” Pace said. “I hit a decent chip, but didn’t make the cut. I missed the green on the next hole, but hit a great bunker shot and made a tap-in birdie. It’s the way it goes sometimes, and you just have to grin and bear it.”
Pace hopes to finish in double figures on Sunday, especially if the Lost City layout is set up the same as last year when she claimed the inaugural Investec Cup for Ladies.
“The course is a little shorter and I find the greens easier to read than those at Millvale,” she said.
“You can attack the pins on almost every hole, and that makes for an exciting weekend.”
Smit might lag three off the pace, but after sub-standard par to her season, but the 2014 Investec Cup for Ladies runner-up was thrilled to be back to form.
The Southern Cape golfer turned two under after birdies at the fifth and ninth, and notched a third birdie at the par-five 11th.
“I was upset that I spoiled a great run with the double-bogey at the 17th, but you just have to get over it really quickly,” Smit said. “It happens and you have to look ahead. There is time enough after the round to cry over spilt milk.
“I’m just really excited that I am contending again. I had a really disappointing start to the season and decided to change clubs. It might have been psychological, but my game definitely picked up and I got myself into the top 10 to qualify.
“Now I just want to make the most of the experience. It’s going to be tough to catch Lee-Anne, but I’m going to give it my best shot.”
FIRST ROUND SCORES (all players RSA unless otherwise specified):
68 - Lee-Anne Pace
71 - Monique Smit
73 - Lucy Williams ENG, Stacy Bregman, Melissa Eaton
74 - Nicole Garcia, Monja Richards
76 - Bonita Bredenhann NAM
78 - Nobuhle Dlamini SWZ, Kim Williams