The 2009 NZ champion Gwladys Nocera from France

French golfer Gwladys Nocera, the inaugural ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open Champion, is an unabashed rugby fan who even backed the All Blacks victory in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

The 37-year-old is back after an absence of three years with the championship returning to Clearwater Golf Club where Nocera won the first NZ Open, one of her 11 professional victories, coming to Christchurch then as the reigning European No.1 ranked player.

Nocera loves rugby and even hoped the All Blacks would prevail in the final against her favoured French team.

“I am a big rugby fan and I watch all the games. Even if New Zealand beat France in the final I kind of wanted New Zealand to win because it (Rugby World Cup) was here and it was a big deal for the country,” Nocera said.

“You guys are so scared of us. I was at home and I wanted France to win because I am French obviously. The World Cup being hosted here and with what happened here in Christchurch two years ago, I think it was deserved. The

All Blacks are the best team in the world and for so many times they lost the final, that it was time they won it. It’s okay. We will get the next one.”

Nocera has mixed her time between the LPGA Tour in the United States and the Ladies European Tour but will focus more back in Europe this year.

She is full of confidence with her current form, rather than drawing on her victory at Clearwater in 2009, with the championship moving back after three years at Pegasus Golf Club north of Christchurch.

“I have not been back to Clearwater since 2009 and I enjoy being here and happy to be back.

“It was blowing so hard that day and I remember trying to play safe and not make any mistakes. I didn’t expect to win that day but I ended up winning and my friends threw me in the lake … it has a lot of good memories.

“I just know I like the place. It has been four years though and a lot can change. I have to take the confidence of my game today. I am feeling good and I am playing good so that to me that is more important and that is what I need to focus on, not what happened four years ago.”

Nocera is also happy to support Christchurch by returning to play in the tournament here, which is part of the Ladies European Tour.

“Yesterday I went to Christchurch city centre. I saw the temporary shops. I thought that was pretty nice and cool to make a city out of boxes. But I did not know the whole centre of the city is closed. It is pretty scary to think what happened.”

The ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch has attracted a world-class field including three of the previous four champions of the event and World No.1 amateur Lydia Ko.

Nocera is one of three former winners in the field, with last year’s winner Australian Lindsey Wright withdrawing with injury.

Also in the field for the championship from February 8 – 10 are major champions Anna Nordqvist and Sophie Gustafson, both of Sweden.

World No.16 Angela Stanford and Cheyenne Woods, the niece of Tiger Woods, are other notable players in a field that will include 32 LPGA Tour Players. The all-star cast that forms the strongest field ever assembled for the NZ Women’s Open, also includes European No. 1 Carlota Ciganda.

Tickets available at the gate.