Lydia Hall from Wales and Noora Tamminen of Finland shot matching bogey-free rounds of five-under-par 67 to lead on the first day of the Qatar Ladies Open, the history-making Ladies European Tour (LET) event at Doha Golf Club.
Scotland’s Kylie Walker and Anna Nordqvist of Sweden are a stroke further back on four-under-par, Walker having stormed home in 31, ending with three straight birdies.
On a day of mainly fair weather conditions, punctuated by a shower at dusk, Hall set the target early in the morning. The 28-year-old from Pencoed missed nine months of her 2015 season due to knee surgery to her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and is clearly playing with fresh enthusiasm this season.
Hall said: “It was really solid out there today. I think I hit 17 greens in regulation and got my putter going throughout the middle part of the round, so I’m playing well.
“I’ve been playing well all year really, after injury last year. I came back with a fresh set of eyes. I’ve been focusing on playing rather than on technical things.”
Co-leader Tamminen, who represented Finland in the Olympic Games in August, is another player who has struggled with injury. After working hard to overcome a back problem, the 26-year-old is now looking for her maiden victory on tour.
She said: “I felt really confident and calm this morning. My long game was super good and I hit all the greens. I had some bad drives but they weren’t that bad, so it was a steady round.
“I just want to enjoy the game and have no pressure. I really like playing in the Middle East. Everything is well organised and I love that we have Abu Dhabi and this one. I really like the course and that you have to be good from the tee.”
Most players favoured the more attackable back nine and Walker, who made five birdies from the 10th later in the afternoon, said: “Hole 16 is a driveable par-4 so I just got it on the front edge and two putted. I hit it in close on 17 and holed a good seven, eight footer. Then the last, we were having to play it in three because the wind was hurting but I holed a good 15 footer.”
On her goals for the penultimate stroke play event of the LET season, she added: “We’ve got two great tournaments to finish here and in Dubai and we had Abu Dhabi as well. To finish in the Middle East like this is great and this event is awesome this week. It’s our first time here and they’ve put on a great show for us. They are really looking after us well so I’m just enjoying it.”
Nordqvist, who flew in on the eve of the tournament, also enjoyed the course. She said: “It was a little interesting as I’d never seen the course before and had a local caddie to show me around. I played great today and I’m very happy with a four-under. I’ve been playing well this year. I gave myself a couple of bad clubs today but I can only blame myself. It was just nice out there and a very quick pace, which I like, 4 hrs 15 to 4 hrs 20. It was fun and I had a good time. I learned a bit of the course today so I can improve on it for the next few days.
“I think it’s a great golf course, I really do. There are a couple of small dog legs and you’re trying to cut the corners off the tee. The rough is not where you want to be on this course, it’s very unpredictable, so I feel I’ll have a better idea for the lines and lay-up areas. I short sided myself a little on 18, a little too far back. The course is great and the greens are a little slow but that makes you be aggressive and hit the putts firmly. I like this place, I think it’s a great layout and I look forward to playing the next couple of days.”
Elsewhere in the 108-strong field, Connie Chen made history of her own with a hole-in-one at the par-3 13th, which capped off a great hour for the South African after she also eagled the 10th hole in a round of 71. It was her third competitive hole-in-one on the LET and her fourth in total as she also made an ace during a practise round.
The Qatar Ladies Open continues with the second round on Thursday, starting at 6.30am.