Lee-Anne Pace, Marta Sanz Barrio, Kristen Farmer, Solar Lee and Yan-Hong Pan shared the early lead on four-under-par 68 in the Sanya Ladies Open at Yalong Bay Golf Club on Friday morning.
Pace, a two-time winner of the event, in 2010 and 2013, who also won the 2014 Blue Bay LPGA event in Hainan, rattled in seven birdies and three bogeys to put herself into position for the weekend.
The 36-South African said afterwards: “It’s always nice to come back here and I really enjoy playing on this course. It feels a bit like home because I’ve won three times on this island. It seems like it’s a lucky place for me, so I really hope I can win.”
After starting from the 10th, Pace birdied the 11th and 14th holes before dropping a shot on 18. She then birdied the first, third and fourth holes, before coming up short and the par-3 fifth. There was another gain at the seventh, but a stunning drive on the eighth hole found a divot in the fairway, resulting in another dropped shot, before a final birdie on the ninth.
“I’m happy with four-under. I made quite a lot of putts and I think I had 26 putts, which helps. I hit a lot of greens. The course played a bit easier today as there was no wind when we played and accessible pins,” Pace said.
“I holed one from off the green on number three, which was a bonus, after coming up short, so that got me going and then I birdied the next one and kept going. I hit them pretty close all day and had a couple of tap-ins.”
While Pace is aiming for her 10th win on the LET, joint leader Sanz Barrio is looking for her first top-5 finish.
After making five birdies and a bogey at the 17th, the 25-year-old from Spain said: “I was pretty consistent and I didn’t miss a fairway. I hit all the greens and hit the approach shots close. I only made one mistake on 17, which was a three-putt. The putting was working, so that was good. I’m loving the hotel and it’s awesome. We went to the beach yesterday and today the weather has respected us. This is my first time in Sanya. It’s a vacation area so it’s really beautiful.”
Meanwhile, another 25-year-old, Kristen Farmer, from Australia, is just enjoying the experience, having taken a fortnight off from her regular work to play in the Sanya and Hero Women’s Indian Open.
A receptionist for telephone network company Optus in Canberra, Farmer has held various positions over the last five years, ranging from packing shelves at night to working in a golf pro shop, to fund her dream of playing on Tour.
Her goal for the first round was to shoot five-under, which would have been her lowest ever score, but the Australian Ladies Professional Golf and Ladies Asian Golf Tour member was thrilled to be in contention on four-under.
She said: “I played pretty solid and hit a lot of fairways, greens and then made a few birdies. The course is nice and tropical and a really good layout, it’s beautiful and colourful.”
Farmer made five birdies, including two on the front and three on the back. She chipped in on the third hole and then made another gain on the seventh. She made her only bogey on hole 10, after missing the green on the left side.
She birdied the 11th and 12th, by rolling in a 30-footer and sank another long birdie putt from 25 feet on the par-3 15th.
She continued: “I’ve been hitting the ball more solid. Actually, I struck the ball really well last week, but had nine three putts and I had none today and hit the approach shots close.”
The local challenge is led by veteran Yan Hong Pan, who tied for third in the 2011 Sanya Ladies Open.
The former Chinese weight lifter carded four birdies in a bogey-free round and said: “I missed some short birdie putts, but made some unexpected long putts. Those putts are long and hard to read so it’s a surprise.
“I don’t think I’ve been hitting solid shots recently, but I changed my attitude. Two weeks ago, I won a local event in Fujian, but I had to say that my temper was a lot worse then. My friend told me that I couldn’t play like that. I tried to look it differently. Now I accept everything that happens to me. If I miss the fairway, I try to hit the green. If I miss the green, I try to make up and down. You play better when you let it go.”
China LPGA rookie Solar Lee, 27, from South Korea, also holds a share of the lead after carding five birdies against one bogey, at the long 16th. A winner on the Korean Dream Tour in August, she is thoroughly enjoying playing in the Sanya Ladies Open for the first time. She said: “The green speed was perfect so my putting was excellent. I love it here and it’s like heaven. In Korea, it’s really cold at the moment, so this weather is so good!”