Sophie Sandolo shot a sizzling six under par 66 in the blazing sunshine to lead by a stroke after the opening round of the Portugal Ladies Open on Friday.
The French-born Italian finished one clear of the 2009 champion Johanna Westerberg of Sweden after eight birdies and two bogeys at Campo Real near Lisbon.
She was delighted to be back in contention after skipping the 2009 season due to a back and shoulder injury.
“I didn’t think I was going to play golf again. All this is really good to me,” said Sandolo. “Last year I was not playing and now I’m really enjoying myself, being back on the golf course and being back on tour.”
At the beginning of the year, Sandolo had no playing status, but she has earned her way back onto the Tour with an impressive run of form over the past six tournaments playing mainly on invitations.
She has posted two top ten finishes: a tie for eighth in Turkey and fifth in the Netherlands. Now she is targeting her first win on the Ladies European Tour.
“My strategy was to play as low as possible without making too many mistakes and that’s what I’m trying to do every time,” she said.
Sandolo started slowly with two bogeys at the second and third holes however she picked up the pace with her first birdie of the day at the fourth hole and carded further birdies at the fifth, seventh and ninth holes.
After hitting the turn at two under, she posted four more birdies on the back nine at the 11th, 14th, 16th and 18th holes, finishing a stroke ahead of the defending champion Westerberg, who had set the target with a 67 that included six birdies and a solitary bogey.
Westerberg, who claimed her maiden LET title 12 months ago at Golden Eagle, said: “I played really well all the way through. My only mistakes pretty much were two three putts but otherwise I set up a lot of good birdie opportunities and I managed to make three of them so I’m very pleased.”
The early leader only returned to the LET three weeks ago after the birth of her first son Leo at the end of December. She is hoping to repeat her 2009 performance with her fiancé, Swedish tennis professional Pim-Pim, again on the bag.
There are five players just a stroke behind Westerberg sharing third place on 68 and they are English rookie Kym Larratt and compatriot Holly Aitchison, Spain’s Laura Cabanillas, Italian Stefania Croce and Breanne Loucks of Wales.
Seven players share eighth place a shot further back on 69: Italian Veronica Zorzi, Frenchwoman Virginie Lagoutte-Clement, English duo Felicity Johnson and Elizabeth Bennett and the Australian trio of Frances Bondad, Karen Lunn and Kate Combes.
The second round gets underway at 8am on Saturday with more sunny weather predicted. Sandolo starts from the 10th tee at 8.30am, while Westerberg starts from the 10th at 1pm.