Maria Hernandez and LET rookie Linn Grant are tied at the top heading into the final day of the Joburg Ladies Open, with both players level on five shots under-par ahead of Saturday’s action.
Overnight leader Hernandez produced a steadier second round, with three birdies and two bogeys enough to come home in 72 (-1) and keep her name at the top of the leaderboard heading into the weekend.
Meanwhile, it was a tale of resilience for Grant, as she recovered admirably from a bogey and double bogey on the third and fourth respectively to pull herself back up the leaderboard throughout the day, having birdied the first.
The calm conditions earlier in the day also helped for the 2017 PING Junior Solheim Cup player, as she bounced back with an eagle on the fifth, and she picked up shots on every par-five in her round, as well as the par-three 14th.
“I’m very excited, I had a good day out there – I didn’t really get the putts rolling in but I played well on the par-fives, so I managed to get a good score,” Grant said.
“I knew this morning there was no wind and the weather was really nice I just thought I had a lot of birdies in me, but then I started stumbling a little bit.
“So, I hit a great shot into five and having a tap in eagle to get back level, and then it carried on from there.”
Grant is no stranger to taking victory on South African soil, having already tasted success in the country twice this year, having won both the Dimension Data Ladies Challenge and the Jabra Ladies Classic in February.
Her hopes of making it three wins in four events on the Sunshine Ladies Tour were boosted with Friday’s strong showing, as she made the most of her length off the tee to give herself plenty of scoring opportunities.
And with the chance to claim an LET title in her first event as a full member, the Swede is looking to keep that momentum going heading into the final day.
“I gave myself better angles into the greens off the tee on the par-fives today and shorter approaches, so I kept going for the greens and two-putted my way to birdies.
“The finish here is quite tough so I tried to keep it simple.
“I’m going to stick to the same strategy, but I’m going to be on my toes a little bit. I’ll be a little bit more aggressive on the pins and hit the putts a little bit harder.”
You have to go back to 2010 for Hernandez’s last victory on Tour, as she won the trophy at the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open 12 years ago, but she has put herself in a promising position with one round left to play.
Things didn’t start brilliantly for the 36-year-old, as she dropped a shot on the tenth – her first hole of the day – but birdies on the 13th and fifth negated another dropped shot on 15, before she made hay on the par-five eighth to finish one shot to the good.
“It wasn’t as easy as yesterday, I was hitting good shots but with too much club. I played solid but I struggled a little bit on the greens today but at least I finished well and made some good putts coming in,” she said.
“If I’m telling the truth I don’t think about winning, tomorrow is a new day and a new challenge, so I’ll just go out and try to play my best.
“There will be so many challenges and we don’t know what is going to happen, so I just have to play shot by shot and if at the end of the day everything goes well then great, and if not you have to take the positives and go into the next week.
“You never know if someone is going to shoot better than you, and if you do all you can do is go an congratulate the person.”
Alice Hewson and Kim Metraux are hot on the heels of the leading duo heading into the final 18 holes, as the English star picked up four shots on the front nine, before a solitary bogey on the tenth saw her finish three shots to the good for her day’s play and just a shot behind the leading pair.
Similarly to Grant, Hewson also eagled the fifth, before claiming birdies on seven and eight to put herself in a share of the lead at the turn, before taking six shots on the tenth to fall back a place in the standings.
And the 2020 Investec South Africa Women’s Open is looking to take that form from the front nine into the second half of the course as we reach the business end of the tournament.
“I got off to a really good start this morning, I played the front nine really well, so I was happy about that, I just needed to start taking more opportunities on the back nine, but I managed to hold it together,” she said.
“I hit an approach really close on the par five fifth, so I managed to capitalise on that opportunity. I was happy about the way I played the front, and I need to take that into the back nine .
“The back nine is definitely more challenging, the par fives aren’t as reachable, I’m pretty happy with my game plan I just need to work a bit more on my execution on some of the holes.
“I’ve done everything I can do for today and we’ll go into tomorrow and I’ll give it everything.”
Metraux shot the round of the day 68 (-5) while playing in the afternoon, with a run of four birdies between holes four and eight seeing her finish four-under through the front nine.
The Swiss star also produced another birdie on 12, while the only bogey of her round came on 15 as she struck a tree with her second shot, but after managing to reclaim that shot on the 17th, she heads into the final day in high spirits.
“I’ve been playing well the last few days and last week, but the scores didn’t come with the way I was playing, but today everything just fell into place and it felt easier,” she said.
“There were a few par-fives that were reachable, so I got it on the green or on the side of the green and two-putted for birdies.
“I like how the greens are rolling, I like the feeling on them and it’s been an enjoyable day.
“I was quite happy to just drop one and make a bogey on 15, it’s not always easy to turn it around but I managed this time.”
Nicole Garcia continues to keep hopes of a win in her hometown alive, as the Johannesburg native shot 71 (-2) to put her at -3 for the tournament, and within a cluster of players within two shots of the lead.
Garcia – who registered a top ten finish at the Aramco Saudi Ladies International last time out – shot par for each of her first ten holes, before birdies on 11, 14 and 16 put her in a good position, although she will be ruing a dropped shot on 17 as conditions briefly changed towards the end of her round.
“I struggled to get anything going on the front nine, there are three short fives that I could reach and I didn’t take any birdie opportunities on those, so that was disappointing, but other than that I’m happy with the end result and I’ll try again tomorrow,” Garcia said.
“I’m still struggling a bit with my strike, especially with the longer approach shots and the longer irons I’m not quite hitting it out the middle so it’s a bit difficult to get it close, but I’ll go and work on it today and hopefully I reach them tomorrow.
“My putter helped me make a lot of par saves today, the greens are running really nice so if you hit your line they generally go in.
“I’m just going to keep my game plan the same as the last two days, and hopefully capitalise a bit better on it, and that’s all I can do, I’ve just got to improve on the longer irons.”
American star Kelly Whaley and Alexandra Swayne of the US Virgin Islands sit in a share of fifth spot too, while Emma Grechi also found herself on -3 for the tournament after a double-bogey on the last.
The French player looked in good shape to have a share of the lead before heading down the 18th, but her approach came short of the green, before taking three shots with the putter to finish two-under for the day.
Elsewhere, Becky Morgan sits in ninth on -2 after a second round 70 (-3), while Noora Komulainen, Michele Thomson and Isabella Van Rooyen are in a tie for tenth on -1.
A total of 71 players made the cut for the final round on Saturday, with the cutline falling at +6.
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