Caroline Hedwall was on course to retain her Austrian title as she led by two shots going into the final round of the UNIQA Ladies Golf Open presented by Raiffeisen.

Playing in her first tournament for two months, the 23-year-old Swede shot rounds of 67 and 66 to end on 11 under par after 36 holes, with Australian rookie Alison Whitaker two strokes behind.

Hedwall won four tournaments on the Ladies European Tour in 2011 before being named rookie and player of the year but has been out with a hip injury for the last eight weeks. Her short game practice was paying off at Golfclub Fohrenwaldh in Wiener Neustadt, where she is defending the title she won last year by four strokes.

She reeled off six birdies on a second day of beautiful weather in Lower Austria and said: “I’m playing very solidly. I shot better than yesterday and yesterday was good so I’m very happy. I’ve been working hard and I’m having a lot of fun.”  

She played relatively conservatively during her second round, with her mother Yvonne pulling her trolley.

“I haven’t actually gone for the greens today. I’m hitting my wedges so well I’m just looking to hit the fairways, get a good approach shot and I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities today and made a lot of putts so I’m very happy. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing. If I can shoot five or six under tomorrow it will be hard to beat,” she said.

Australian rookie Alison Whitaker

Whitaker managed to stay in touch with the Solheim Cup player with rounds of 67 and 68 and will be trying to improve on her season-best tie for 11th in Holland as she contends for the first time in an event on the LET.

The 26-year-old Melbournian, ranked 87th on the order of merit, said: “It’s good to see some balls go in the hole and see some hard work pay off. It’s been a bit of a grind this season so it’s good to get a little momentum going.

“Yesterday I had a good ball striking day and today was a bit scrappier but I just really committed to being comfortable off the tee. If I wasn’t feeling driver then I just committed to three-wood and made some smart decisions out there so I think as long as I can keep committing to my shots then hopefully tomorrow will be a good day.”

England’s Melissa Reid had a tidy 67 to share third with Thailand’s Nontaya Srisawang on six under par. Reid had six birdies in her first 12 holes but dropped shots at 12 and 13 before recovering with a birdie on 17. With ties for third in this event the last two years and having won in Prague earlier this year, she will be one to watch on Sunday.

Srisawang is also a threat as she enjoys playing in the heat which reminds her of her home in Chiang Mai. The 24-year-old second year LET player had five birdies and one dropped shot in a 68 and was sticking to her game plan of hitting fairways and greens.

England’s Laura Davies, a three-time winner of this event in 2007, 2008 and 2010 shot 69 to finish in a group of six players at five under, along with the 2009 event champion Linda Wessberg.

Having played with Hedwall for the first two rounds, Davies felt that she would be tough to catch. “It’s up to Caroline really. She’s six ahead of me. To be behind someone that’s playing that well tomorrow won’t be easy,” she said.

Austrian hopes will rest on Stefanie Michl’s shoulders as nation’s only player to make the cut at level par.