Morocco, Thursday 18th March 2010 — Russia’s Maria Verchenova holds a one stroke lead on five-under-par 67 after the first round of the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco.

Spain’s Paula Marti is four under alongside England’s Melissa Reid, Vikki Laing from Scotland and Austria’s Stefanie Michl.

Verchenova, 23, from Moscow, carded eight birdies and three bogeys in perfect scoring conditions at Royal Golf Anfa Mohammédia, near Casablanca, on Thursday afternoon.

This is the first time she has led a Ladies European Tour event in her fourth season on tour.

Dressed in a striking bright yellow vest and a blue mini skirt, Verchenova looked as though she meant business as she strode out onto the tenth tee at the start of her first competitive round of the year.

She wasted no time in picking up five birdies over the back nine, with three birdies in a row from the seventh hole. There were just two bogeys at the 14th and 15th holes.

Her putter remained hot as she rolled in an eight-metre putt at the par four third hole, which was countered by third bogey at the fifth hole. However she finished strongly with birdies at the sixth and the eighth.

“I was putting well and I was keeping myself fit through the whole winter and going to the gym and preparing to play so I felt I was going to be pretty close,” said Verchenova, who has been lifting weights and running six days a week over the winter. “I’m hitting it longer and straighter so I supposed it helped,” she said.

The stunning brunette suffered a wrist injury late in 2009, but since recovering, has spent time practising at National Golf Club in Belek, Turkey, which will host the second edition of the Ladies Turkish Open in May.

“The conditions were good in Turkey, so I could practise my pitching and putting. The putting was really good. I’ve worked a lot with my coach, Danny Wilde, and he is over here. We’ve worked on my pitching within 100 metres. This golf course is really short but it’s got loads of rough so you’ve got to be pretty straight.” she said.

While Russia was covered in snow, she also found time to design her own clothing range, inspired by women’s tennis.

“My clothing line will come out really soon in about two months or so and it’s going to be really young and fashionable and bright colours for really young girls. Hopefully the girls will like it. As always I’m in really bright colours and that’s what I’m looking for. Hopefully the first year I will just wear it and show it and the next year we will try to sell it,” she explained.

One of the Ladies European Tour’s original trend setters, Paula Marti, took the lead early in the morning, along with playing partner Melissa Reid of England.

Also playing in her first tournament of the season, Marti carded seven birdies and three bogeys. She birdies two of the last three holes.

“My driver and my putting were great today, especially on these fairways. They are so tight that you have to hit the fairway otherwise the rough is so high that it’s really impossible to get a decent lie. I’ve made a couple of putts and that’s it. That was overall my round. I made two mistakes in a row but I finished with birdie, par, birdie, so that helps the round,” Marti said.

Reid, who finished 16th at last week’s Handa Women’s Australian Open in Melbourne, carded five birdies and one bogey on a still morning.
“I’ve put myself right in the tournament. I didn’t hit it great out there today which was a bit disappointing, but hopefully if I get my driver going and get the irons good then it will go well over the next couple of days,” Reid said.

Scotland’s Vikki Laing was at four-under after 12 holes, having overcome her opening bogey with five birdies.

“I was hitting my driver really well. I had a lot of wedges into greens and hit a lot in close, like inside ten feet,” Laing said. “You need to place your drives and hit the fairway because the rough is pretty thick out there. If you hit fairways and you’re putting well you’ll score well.”

France’s Nathalie David-Mila had the first hole-in-one of her professional career at the fourth, when she holed out with a four-iron from 157 metres, however, unfortunately there was no prize and she carded 78.

The €275,000 event, which is named after HRH Princess Lalla Meryem, started in 1993 but has joined the Ladies European Tour schedule for the first time in this, its 16th year.

The event is being staged at the same time as the Trophée Hassan II at nearby Royal Golf Dar es-Salam on the men’s European Tour.