Céline Boutier from France posted an opening round of seven-under-par 65 on the Amelkis Course in Marrakech on Saturday to take a one stroke lead at the Final Stage of the Ladies European Tour’s Lalla Aicha Tour School for 2017 in Morocco.
“I’m really happy. I feel like I made a lot of putts and it’s always good to convert those opportunities for birdie,” said the 23-year-old from the Paris suburb of Montrouge. “I didn’t make a bogey today, so any round without a bogey is great. I tied my personal record and it’s been a while since I shot this low, so a 65 is perfect.”
The 2015 Ladies’ British Open Amateur champion at Portstewart Golf Club, who graduated from Duke University in May with a degree in psychology, made seven birdies on a cold day. She added: “I just played really steady all day and had a lot of opportunities. Anything between 4-15 feet, I just putted really well.”
Boutier, who tied for 14th place in the recent Lacoste Ladies Open de France, shortly after turning professional in September, continued: “I think the Amelkis course is really interesting. I really like the course and the design. It’s very narrow and you have to think on a lot of holes because it’s not always straightforward and it can be very challenging if you’re not driving well.”
LET rookie Natalia Escuriola Martinez from Spain and India’s Amandeep Drall also started strongly, with a pair of 66s on the Amelkis and Samanah courses respectively.
Escuriola Martinez, 22, from Castellon, said: “I feel really comfortable on the course. I made six birdies, no bogeys. It was easy, because I played really badly on the LET this year and today I felt really good and it was easier to play.”
Drall’s 66 included five birdies on the back nine of the Samanah course and the 24-year-old from Chandigarh commented afterwards: “The start was perfect. I started with a birdie and then a par on the second hole and then a birdie on the third hole, so that kind of set me off. Then I was just playing one shot at a time. On the back nine, I was sticking it closer and I holed a lot of putts, so five-under on the back. On the front nine I was struggling to find the pace but then on the back nine I figured it out.”
She cited the LET’s 2016 Rookie of the Year Aditi Ashok as an inspiration to all of the seven Indian golfers in the field. “She won the Q-School last year and then she won two events in her rookie year, so that really motivated us. We thought if she can do it, then we can do it as well,” she said.
English amateur Lauren Horsford, 19, from Wimbledon Park Golf Club in London, was a stroke further behind in fourth after posting a 67 at Amelkis Golf Club.
The joint-medallist at LET Pre-Qualifying D in Colombia last month, Horsford said: “I’m happy because I played solidly and only had one bogey on the 16th, which was a tough hole anyway. I started off with a few pars and then made five birdies. The greens are really true. I hit most fairways and most greens and didn’t have a three-putt, which normally I do!”
Sideri Vanova from the Czech Republic, Karolin Lampert from Germany and Elina Nummenpaa from Finland share fifth place on four-under-par.
Vanova, who shot a 68 on the Amelkis Course, said: “Everything worked really well and I woke up in a great mood today. I think the strongest part of my game was putting and the drives were great.”
The 27-year-old Prague based professional continued: “It was a bogey-free round so I’m happy. The condition of the course was great. There were some places that were wet but that’s normal after a day of rain. The greens were perfectly prepared.”
Lampert also had a bogey-free round, on the Samanah Course. “I made four birdies including three tap-ins, so I hope to make a few more over the next four days,” she said. “It was solid with two over on the front and back-nines. My iron shots were great.”
In a share of eighth on 69 are Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom, who won Pre-Qualifier B at Mohammedia last week, China’s Yan Liu, who won Pre-Qualifier C in Cambodia, Swede Frida Gustafsson Spang, Ines Lescudier of France and Vani Kapoor from India.
On the first day, the top 12 scores were split evenly between the Amelkis and Samanah courses and there were nine nationalities represented by the top 12 players.
The field of 115 players is split in two groups and will alternate over the first four rounds between Amelkis Golf Club and Samanah Country Club. There will be a cut to the top 60 and ties after the fourth round and the fifth and final round will be contested at Samanah Country Club.
Players who finish in the top 30 and ties will earn Ladies European Tour Membership in category 8 for 2017, while those that finish from positions 31st to 60th and ties after the cut will earn Membership in Category 9b.