Germany’s Caroline Masson moved a step closer to her maiden victory on the Ladies European Tour when she opened with a three-under-par 69 to lead the first round of the South African Women’s Open by two strokes on Friday.

Germany’s Caroline Masson

Masson justified her status as the top-ranked player in the field and dropped only one shot on a tough day at Selborne Park Golf Club.

Stacy Bregman is the leading South African following a 71 that places her in a group alongside France’s Joanna Klatten and Julie Greciet, and Anais Maggetti of Switzerland.

Double SA Open champion Ashleigh Simon battled her way to a round of level-par 72 after spending the entire night up with a stomach bug.

But Masson looked completely at home in the cold weather and often breezy conditions.

“It wasn’t easy, but my local caddie helped a lot with the wind direction. I hit greens and I could’ve made more putts, but I’m very happy with this opening round.”

Masson was three under through 14 holes before the more difficult back nine claimed the only bogey in her round on the par-four 15th.

“The back nine is tough. You have to hit some good long irons in, and can’t make too many mistakes. If you miss the fairways here the balls are gone. You have to really focus on every shot, and there’s no hole where you can really relax.”

Lee-Anne Pace is the top-ranked South African in the field, but her opening three-over 75 meant that Bregman now shoulders the South African challenge. And she rose to the challenge with a round where she nearly holed out three times, including a sublime seven-iron to within inches on the par-four 16th for a birdie.

“I played really solid and had my chances, but I’ll take this. I hit a lot of great shots out there, which I’m really happy about. This is definitely a thinker’s golf course.”

At six shots behind, Pace certainly feels she’s not out of the tournament.

“I was a bit nervous in the beginning playing back home again for the first time in so many years. But towards the end of the round I was more relaxed and was playing a bit better. I’m definitely not out of it. On a course like this anything can still happen. So I just need a good round on Saturday and then I can start the chase on Sunday.”

Welsh star Becky Brewerton and England’s Felicity Johnson remain a threat at only three off the lead.