Maria Hernandez holds a two-shot lead at the end of day one of the Joburg Ladies Open, after the Spaniard rolled in five birdies in a round of 69 (-4) on Thursday.
It was the perfect birthday present for Hernandez, who turns 36 today, and she got her round off to a great start with two birdies in her first six holes.
A bogey on the ninth was soon forgotten, as she rolled in putts on 14, 15 and 18 to pick up three shots in her final five holes and end the day with a flourish.
And Hernandez – who last tasted victory on Tour at the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open in 2010 – was pleased with an exceptional day’s play at Modderfontein Golf Club.
“I played really solid today, I managed to stay out of trouble, and when I needed to I made my up and downs so it was a solid round,” she said.
“The course is in great shape, the greens are really good, but when the wind picked it up it made it a bit more challenging, but the greens were in good shape so that was a plus.
“The back nine is trickier, and on the front nine you have the three par-fives, so it’s easier to have a chance for birdies, but I actually played better on the back nine, so I’ll take it.
“I love South Africa, I like the people, I love the environment and I always enjoy it when I come here.”
There are a number of players in the chasing pack tied for second place in Johannesburg, with Germany’s Luisa Dittrich and Italy’s Virginia Elena Carta both securing scores of 71 (-2) after their opening 18 holes.
Smilla Tarning Soenderby also finds herself two shots back of Hernandez after Thursday’s action, with the Dane rolling in five birdies on the way to an impressive opening day at Modderfontein Golf Club.
Alexandra Swayne of the US Virgin Islands is also in a share of second spot, having set the early pace on the opening day in Johannesburg, as the LET rookie finished with an eagle and a birdie on her final two holes to finish two shots to the good.
Swayne had the honour of taking the first tee shot of the tournament from the tenth tee this morning and got through her first nine holes in level-par following a bogey on the 12th and birdie on 13.
Two birdies and three bogeys followed after the turn, before the 21-year-old picked up three shots on 17 and 18 to hold the clubhouse lead at lunchtime.
“I started on the back nine and I was even par, and I knew the front nine was going to be difficult, but I finished with an eagle and birdie, so it doesn’t feel like I shot two-under because I finished like that, but it was okay,” Swayne said.
“The greens were really soft in the morning, but it was quite breezy and nice, my group had fun and we enjoyed it out there.
“I turned pro in January and this is my third LET event so it’s been interesting, there’s a lot of travel for me from the Virgin Islands but I’ve enjoyed it. I have no expectations – I go out there and have fun and hope a few putts drop, golf’s a crazy game you just have to go out and play your game.”
There are a further seven players another shot back, with Manon De Roey, Linn Grant and Alice Hewson among those to finish one-under-par after the first day.
French star Emma Grechi also scored 72 on Thursday, with Noora Komulainen also finsihing on the same score despite having reached -4 after ten holes.
A double-bogey on the par-five 14th was the Finn’s downfall in Johannesburg, before another dropped shot on 16 saw her fall back into the pack, as the wind picked up and light rain began to fall towards the end of the day.
There are also two South Africans within the top ten as it stands, with Ivanna Samu and Nicole Garcia both getting themselves below-par, although both will have some regrets having left some shots out on the course.
Samu was six shots to the good at the turn, but three bogeys and a double-bogey on 14 saw her impressive early lead evaporate like the early morning dew, while five birdies and four bogeys tells the tale of Garcia’s round.
And the Johannesburg local is keen to make amends in Friday’s action, as she searches for a first LET event victory.
“It was a little bit messy, I had a few bogeys and I wasn’t so accurate off the tee so it made it a bit difficult today,” she said.
“I’m happy with the end result considering I wasn’t hitting it 100% – there were a lot of positives to build on for tomorrow.
“The wind picked up and there’s a storm coming in, this course isn’t so easy when you have a wind gusting to compete with, but I think the afternoon draw is the better side of the draw with storms coming in tomorrow afternoon.
“My ball striking wasn’t on today, which made it a bit difficult, especially off the tee, so I just want to make myself a bit more comfortable and so I feel better tomorrow.”
Former Solheim Cup player Becky Brewerton finds herself in a gaggle of seven players who shot level-par in their opening round, with Lauren Taylor, Maiken Bing Paulsen and Lina Boqvist among those to also shoot 73.
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