Gwladys Nocera made amends for the heartbreak of her play-off defeat 12 months ago by coming back and claiming a two stroke victory in the Lalla Meryem Cup at Golf de L’Ocean in Agadir.
The 39-year-old Frenchwoman sealed her 14th Ladies European Tour title, just three months after her last victory in the Hero Women’s Indian Open.
She started the day with a two stroke lead and a final round of one under par 70 was enough to end two ahead of three other players: English duo Melissa Reid (66) and Felicity Johnson (67) and South African Nicole Garcia (70).
“I remember last year when Charley (Hull) kept on getting birdies in the last round, so I knew this morning that it could happen. All I kept saying was I need to play my game and make as many birdies as I can. I tried my best,” said Nocera, who also won the Lalla Meryem Cup in 2007, before it was sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour.
“It was a tough day towards the end. I took a really stupid double bogey which put me in trouble. I missed one fairway today and I took a double bogey, so that was a shame, but I wanted this tournament really bad. I’ve always said it, and I’m really happy I did it.”
Nocera made a strong start with birdies on the second, third and eighth holes to keep a two stroke lead over Garcia at the turn, but there was plenty of drama on the back nine.
When she birdied the par five 11th hole, which Garcia bogeyed, Nocera took a four shot advantage at 16 under, but after a double bogey on the par-four 14th hole, that lead was reduced to just one stroke. Johnson, who had fired six birdies in 13 holes, reached 13 under but then bogeyed 16 and 18. After Nocera three putted the 17th from short range, she held a two stroke lead standing on the par-3 18th tee and sealed the win and first prize of €67,500 with a simple par.
“Gwladys is a great player who’s done this many times before,” said Johnson, a two-time LET winner who claimed her last title at the 2011 French Open.
“It’s been a little while since I’ve been in contention so it’s nice to get that feeling on a Sunday: that’s what we play golf for. I’m disappointed at the moment but give me a couple of hours and it will be alright.”
Melissa Reid, who won her last title at the 2012 Prague Golf Masters, was also delighted to be back in contention. She said: “I actually felt pretty good this morning and it’s nice to be in this position, put yourself back in contention. My driver was not a good boy today but I scrambled really, really well. I holed a chip and holed a pitch, so it’s one of those things. I’m really happy with the progress I’m making. It’s a huge positive and I would have taken second at the start of the week.”
Garcia’s tie for second place was her career best finish on the Ladies European Tour and shows what she is capable of after solid preparation having played in eight tournaments already this year in South Africa.
Garcia said: “I started off pretty well. I was three under after nine holes and I thought if I can just keep it going and make one or two more birdies I might stand a chance but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
“It does make me feel a lot more settled. I had a good week so hopefully I can carry on the theme through the year.”
Rookie professional Nanna Madsen, who finished third in New Zealand last month, continued to impress with a solo fifth place finish, while Frenchwoman Celine Herbin was sixth and Switzerland’s Melanie Maetzler was seventh.
Fellow Swiss player Anaïs Maggetti shared eighth place with England’s Charley Hull, Frenchwomen Anne-Lise Caudal and Isabelle Boineau and Scotland’s Pamela Pretswell, who recorded her third top ten of the season.
The 2014 champion Hull ended with a five under par 66 and said: “I’m really happy with the way I finished and especially being nine under for the weekend. I hit all the fairways today and my game is in good shape. I think I came back strong after being ill earlier in the week and I’m feeling good about the way I’m hitting it going into the first major of the year.”