Intense off-season training produced some great results for Lee-Anne Pace at home and definitely helped South Africa’s top golfer to surge within striking distance of the joint leaders in the first women’s Major of the year in California on Thursday. Pace fired an opening four-under-par 68 at the Dinah Shore Course to grab a share of third in the ANA Inspiration with Scotland’s Catriona Matthew and Shiho Oyama from Japan. The trio lag just one shot behind first round pacesetters Spain’s Azahara Munoz and Ai Miyazato from Japan at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.
Pace, who tied for 69th last year and missed the cut in 2014, has always maintained that the course suits her game and her love for the layout was evident as she took advantage of an early start to reel in birdies at three, six, eight, 11 and 12. The three-time Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies champion surrendered just one shot at the par five closing hole and was pleased to start her first Major with a nice low round. She says: ‘I really love this course and I’ve always felt like I can play really good out here. I worked really hard in the off-season and played a lot more golf at the start of the season than in the past. I played some of the opening events on the LPGA Tour and the tournaments I played on the Sunshine Ladies Tour at home really helped me. Even though it was eight weeks in a row, I felt more prepared coming into the first Major than in the past.’
Pace described the opening round as one of those days ‘when everything just worked together perfectly.’ The 35-year-old says: ‘I put myself in a lot of good positions and the putter did the rest. The rough is a little bit thick and can be quite sticky in the mornings, so you need to hit the fairways. The greens are absolutely perfect and they were smooth in the morning. I missed only one fairway at 18 and I had just 27 putts; if you position yourself and hit good putts, they’re definitely going to go in.’ The new face on the bag also improved her mood.
She says: ‘My new caddie (Johan Swanepoel) is a good friend from Mossel Bay. We’ve known each other for 15 years and he happened to be free at the time when I needed a caddie. Johan was a great player himself, and he really helped me to place the ball and kept me in a good mental space. I had a really good time; it’s important for me to enjoy myself out there.’ Compatriot Paula Reto also made an impressive start in her second tour at Mission Hills. The Bloemfontein golfer negated a quartet of bogeys with gains at two, three, nine, 11 and 15 to join 15 players in a tie for 24th at one under.
Miyazato, coming off a third-place finish last week at the Kia Classic, fired a bogey-free 67 to grab a share of the first-round lead for the first time since the 2013 RR Donnelley Founders Cup. The former world number one says: ‘That was huge. I definitely gained my confidence, and I really felt good with my game again. I was kind of really happy to play golf again, like my game again because I was kind of struggling the last couple years and it was really hard. But I got through, and I’m still in the process, but I know that I’m moving forward. So I feel good.’
Photo credit: Kevin Lee / Getty Images