French pair Gwladys Nocera and Joanna Klatten took the halfway lead at the LACOSTE Ladies Open de France after a second day of hot and humid conditions at Chantaco in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
Nocera fired a 63 to join the first-round leader Klatten on 10-under-par, two strokes clear of Lee-Anne Pace from South Africa.
In scorching temperatures of 30C, Klatten maintained her lead with a 66 containing an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys. “I’m very happy with my round and very happy with how I handled things today,” said the 28-year-old from Paris.
Klatten’s highest finish in three years on Tour came in July’s Spanish Open where she was outright third and she has improved dramatically each season from 82nd in 2011, to 25th in 2012 and now a current ranking of 21st on the 2013 LET Order of Merit.
“I feel really good about my game so I don’t really have that much pressure,” she said. “I feel good, like I’m swinging the best I have. I feel pretty confident out there. My putting has been good for four or five weeks and that’s what used to let me down a little bit. My putting is solid and I think that’s the key to holding a leading position.”
Former European No.1 Nocera, who attracted the largest group of spectators on course, showed her experience as she hit 16 greens in regulation and made 29 putts. The 11-time LET champion rolled in five birdie putts on the front nine, before picking up three further birdies and one bogey on the back nine.
She said: “Today was really fun. I started on the first tee and hit my shot really close, made an easy birdie, then hit the ball really well and made a few putts early on so it gave me good confidence. I know I’m hitting the ball really well at the moment so it’s a matter of making putts. It happened today so it’s a big bonus.”
Nocera feels at home in the Basque region having lived in Biarritz for three years and her sister, Estelle, manages nearby Chiberta Golf Course, where she practises often.
But after wins in Turkey and Spain, Pace will be looking to spoil the French party by collecting her third trophy this season. The 32-year-old from Mossel Bay had five birdies in eight holes through the middle of her round in a 65 and said: “I played consistent and didn’t make any bogeys. I hit 15 greens and think most of the fairways. I could have dropped a couple of putts coming in but the greens are quite tough.”
Pace explained that low scoring was to be expected: “The par fours are quite short, the par threes are quite strong. The par fours are definitely attackable. I’m happy to be where I am with two days to go and I’m waiting for a really low one to come in. When that does come in I think I’ll win,” she said.
Solheim Cup heroines Charley Hull and Azahara Munoz were tied on seven-under-par, alongside Frenchwoman Valentine Derrey, who lives just across the river from the golf course in Ciboure, Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
Hull added a 68 to her opening 65, but said: “I played better today than yesterday. I just had a lot of putts that were lipping out that I got unlucky with. I could have had 14 birdies, so it was good. I was hitting it closer but had a lot of putts that lipped out.”
In contrast, Munoz followed a 68 with a 65 and said: “Yesterday I had a slow start: I had a bogey on one and two, and today was the opposite: I started par, birdie, birdie, so that was the difference. I was hitting my irons really well and my driver much better than yesterday. I put myself in easier spots today.”
“As long as you are on the fairway you always have a birdie chance because you have really short clubs in your hand, so you have a lot of birdie opportunities,” she said. “You have to be patient though, because the greens move quite a lot, so it’s not very easy. Yesterday I had a couple of downhillers that I didn’t want to hit and left five feet short so it’s hard to judge.”