Sweden’s Maja Stark saw off a star-studded leaderboard to win by four shots at the Lalla Meryem Cup and land a sixth Ladies European Tour (LET) title.
Leading Aditi Ashok by two ahead of play, things got interesting early on when last week’s Magical Kenya Open winner birdied the opening hole to draw level with Stark after the Swede made bogey.
But Stark soon took control on the front nine, rebounding with birdies on two, five, and nine to steer four clear of the Indian as they approached the turn.
“I was very nervous for the whole round,” she said. “I get a little bit passive when people are catching up so that wasn’t the best thing in the world.”
On to the back nine and the drama quickly unfolded. Playing in the group ahead, Linn Grant – who started the day five shots adrift – carded birdies on 12, 14 and 15 after going out in 34 (-3) to close the gap to two on her Race to Costa Del Sol rival.
Stark responded with a birdie of her own on 14, before Grant’s momentum ended after she bogeyed the par-4 16th for a third consecutive day.
“The birdie on 14 was important because I could see Linn was making some birdies. I try not to look at the scoreboard, but I could see her draining putts and I thought ‘shoot I really need to keep going!’ Making that putt then gave me a little bit more momentum.
“I just kept going, kept being aggressive, and in the end I think that’s what’s did it.”
Three shots clear of Ashok and Grant with four holes to play, Stark then exemplified the composure which saw her rise to fame last year. The 23-year-old birdied 17 before closing out the win with an excellent par save on 18 to finish on -12.
The victory was Stark’s sixth on the LET and marks an exceptional start to 2023 after finishing T2 at the LPGA Tour’s Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Championship last month.
On her continued rivalry with Grant, Stark said: “I love it. There’s the competition against everyone that I have, and then there’s a competition against Linn! It’s a good competition that we have against each other and I know we’re always trying to beat each other. For us to come out as top two again, that feels great.”
Having piled the pressure on Stark throughout the day, Grant finished in solo second on -8 while Ashok finished third on -7.
A final round 69 saw Switzerland’s Albane Valenzuela finish fourth on -6. Czechia’s Jana Melichova and Spain’s Ana Pelaez Trivino finished in a tie for fifth on -3.
In the 2023 Race to Costa Del Sol, Stark sits second in the standings after collecting 500 points for winning her first event of the campaign. Ashok still leads the way after receiving 230 points to take her overall tally to 730. Grant then collects 320 points to position herself in third.
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