Chiara Noja fired an excellent course record of 62 (-10) to lead by two shots at the end of the first day of the Investec South African Women’s Open.
The teenager got off to a hot start at Steenberg Golf Club with four birdies in her opening five holes before dropping her only shot of the day on the sixth.
Noja soon found her rhythm once again with an eagle on the eighth and rolled in a further five birdies to secure her spot on 10-under-par at the top of the leaderboard.
“I think it was pretty consistent golf in general,” said the LET winner. “I didn’t feel like I was swinging it incredibly well all day.
“I put myself in a good position for birdies, my putting was definitely good and to hole some of those putts was really good.
“My wedges were on point and I think that’s what we’ll try to do going into the next few days. Depending on the wind, we’ll see exactly how much we will need to go under par.”
The 16-year-old secured her maiden victory on the LET back in November clinching the Aramco Team Series – Jeddah Individual title.
And being still so young in her professional career, Noja worked hard on adding new shots to her bag over the off-season.
She explained: “Over the winter I’ve done a lot of wedge work and a lot of the shots that I’ve learned to hit over this week and the start of the season I didn’t have in the bag last year.
“There’s growth in that sense and also trusting myself a little better. I learned that in Jeddah last year and I’m trying to commit to everything and not be afraid to fail.”
South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai sits in second place on eight-under-par having produced a round of 64 on the first day of competition.
The 2022 AIG Women’s Open champion also got off to a blistering start from the 10th hole when she rolled in seven birdies in her opening nine holes to make the turn in 29.
Buhai made her only error of the day on the third hole but soon bounced back with back-to-back birdies on five and six for a round of eight-under.
“We teed off on the back nine, which was my front nine, and conditions were very soft and I got off to a great start,” said the four-time LET winner.
“I rolled in three birdies in-a-row and even lipped out on the fourth hole, holed a bomb on my fifth hole and it was my best nine holes ever in tournament golf. A 29, I have never done that before. It’s pretty cool.
“I hadn’t seen the front nine. I played it blind. I don’t think I committed as well on the front nine, which was my back, and it showed on the tee shot on number three today. After that I trusted Dave, he told me where to hit it and as long as I listened to him.
“My back nine was a little bit trickier, I had some longer clubs in and we had a little bit of wind on those last three holes. My goal was to get it to nine-under once I got it back to seven-under, but you had to hit some good shots coming in.”
Three players sit in a share of third place with Sweden’s Johanna Gustavsson, France’s Nastasia Nadaud and Dutch golfer Romy Meekers on six-under-par.
Gustavsson made seven birdies and one bogey on her way to a round of 66 and the Swede was happy with her day.
“I played solid,” said Gustavsson, who finished third in the 2022 Race to Costa del Sol. “I didn’t really hit the drives as well as I would have wanted but they went straight – the mis-hits anyway.
“I putted well, except on the dropped shot when I three-putted. It was a good day. It wasn’t that windy, we’ve played it a lot windier in the past.”
It was a bogey-free day for LET rookie Nadaud, who rolled in four birdies and an eagle on her way to a 66.
The French teenager explained: “I started from 10 and started really well making birdie on the first hole and then on 12, I got to the green in two and made a five to six metre putt. It helps being three-under after the first three holes. I was hitting it really nice.
“It was a little bit wetter than I thought but thankfully it wasn’t too windy. The course is looking really nice, so I’m enjoying my time here.”
England’s Lily May Humphreys, who won last week’s Joburg Ladies Open, carded a first round of 67 to be in outright sixth place on five-under-par.
Six players sit in a tie for seventh place with Scotland’s Kylie Henry, South Africa’s Nadia van der Westhuizen, Spain’s Luna Sobron Galmes, Denmark’s Smilla Tarning Soenderby, France’s Agathe Sauzon and Germany’s Patricia Isabel Schmidt all on four-under-par.
The second round begins at 7.20 am local time and there will be a cut to the top 60 and ties at the end of the day.
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