(Newry, August 14 2003) Despite suffering with a sore back over the last two days, Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson charted her course for an Irish double by taking the first round lead at the £150,000 BT Ladies Open at Warrenpoint GC in County Down.

Nicholas – eagle two at the 8th

Sanchez is tied on four under with Florence Descampe from Belgium and Germany’s Elisabeth Esterl, who will make her Solheim debut at Barseback in a month’s time.

And England’s Trish Johnson also kept alive her chances of playing in a seventh Solheim Cup as she notched up a three under 69 to sit alongside Naima Ghilain from Belgium and Nienke Nijenhuis from Holland.

Starting at the tenth hole, Gustafson birdied the 11th, 12th and 17th to race into an early lead. But dropping a shot at the 18th did not deter her as she entertained the galleries with rifled iron shots, booming drives and her silky putting stroke as she decimated the front nine.

A hat-trick of birdies from the fourth hole onwards saw her clear of the field and at the narrow ninth hole, she demonstrated exactly why she was the 2-1 favourite. After a 295-yard drive, just 20 yards short of the green, Gustafson gently lobbed her chip to eight feet and clinically dispatched the putt.

“I putted really well today, too,” said Gustafson. “I holed a couple of long ones, which always helps.

“The course is actually a little too tight for me, so I hit a lot of two irons to keep it in play and I only really need the driver here seven or eight times.

“It’s been a strange season, I’ve been playing a lot better than my scores suggested and I’m glad it’s all coming together now.”