Nobuhle Dlamini was as cool as a cucumber in the searing heat at Gary Player Country Club as she raced to an opening four-under-par 68 and a three stroke lead in the Sun International Ladies Challenge on Wednesday. The 5 800 metre layout sets up perfectly for the big-hitting Swazi golfer, who knows she needs to take advantage of her length at the home of the Nedbank Golf Challenge. The 24-year-old Els Club Copperleaf-based Dlamini says: ‘I struggled at the start of the season, but got into the top 10 in the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies Point Standings with my eighth place finish at the Dimension Data Ladies Challenge on Sunday. We only have two events left before the season-finale and I can’t afford to get complacent. I need to attack this course to make sure I improve my position before the SuperSport Ladies Challenge next week. I have the length and I am striking the ball well, but the course is playing very long and they can’t cut the rough due to the drought and heat stress. When you’re in the thick stuff, you’re absolutely dead, so accuracy and avoiding the rough is key to scoring here.’
Dlamini missed the fairway right at the first and immediately paid the price, but she erased the bogey start with a birdie at five and reeled in a trio of birdies from seven to turn three under. She offset bogeys at 13 and 18 with further birdies at 14, 15 and 17 and finished well clear of Maria Beautell from Spain, who spoiled a perfectly steady round with a double bogey at 17 and signed for a 71. Dlamini says: ‘There are a couple of players on the cusp and everyone is gunning for the top 10, so I really feel the pressure. It’s very simple; if you finish outside the top 10, you don’t qualify for the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies at Millvale Private Retreat. If you miss the top 10, you don’t play for the R1-million bonus pool. There is no holding back this week. It’s do-or-die time.’
Recent Ladies Tshwane Open champion Monique Smit moved to second in the standings with a runner-up finish in George and a strong performance this week could see her close the gap on Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies leader Lee-Anne Pace. The Southern Cape golfer went some way to justify her pre-tournament favourite tag by taking a share of third alongside Kim Williams on even-par, while rookie Lejan Lewthwaite and fellow Benoni golfer Nicole Garcia finished a further stroke adrift. Meanwhile rookie Bertine Strauss only arrived back in South Africa on Tuesday after making her second LPGA Tour cut in the Australian Women’s Open.
The 24-year-old Koster golfer says: ‘I was really lethargic over the front nine. It felt like I was a few seconds behind myself the whole time, but I caught a little steam on the back nine. I bogeyed 11 and 13, but I rolled in some birdie putts at 12, 14 and 16. Just need another good nights’ rest and I should be good to go on Thursday.’ Bonita Bredenhann from Namibia, Sweden’s Elina Bergvall and South Korean rookie Carrie Park – the only player in the 50-strong field to birdie the par-four 18th – grabbed a seat on the bus alongside Strauss on two over 74.
FIRST ROUND SCORES
68 – Nobuhle Dlamini SWZ
71 – Maria Beautell ESP
72 – Kim Williams, Monique Smit
73 – Lejan Lewthwaite, Nicole Garcia
74 – Bertine Strauss, Carrie Park KOR, Bonita Bredenhann NAM, Elina Bergvall SWE
Photo credit: Sunshine Ladies Tour