Back-to-form Kim Williams and Ashleigh Simon edged one stroke clear of world number 30 Lee-Anne Pace in the first round of the SuperSport Ladies Challenge on Tuesday. A grip change to her putter helped Williams to notch half-a-dozen birdies for a four-under-par 67 to set the early clubhouse lead. Simon, in hot pursuit, matched the target with a flawless trip around Zwartkop Country Club and Pace clocked in with a 68 to set up a stellar final grouping in Wednesday’s final round.
Sunshine Ladies Tour regulars Nobuhle Dlamini from Swaziland and Namibia’s Bonita Bredenhann lag just two off the pace, while England’s Lauren Taylor and Gauteng amateur Symone Henriques also broke par to tie for sixth on one under. All eyes will be on the last group, though, in what is set to be a dramatic final day. Williams claimed the season-opening Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies last year, but has struggled to find the kind of form that carried her to sixth in the final rankings.
The 28-year old Centurion player said: ‘I am striking the ball as well as ever, but I struggled with the putter in every event. I was so frustrated that I switched to a fat grip on the putter last week and the putts just started to drop. It definitely gives me better control and rhythm. For the first time in weeks I felt confident standing over a putt.’ Williams was pleased to put together a display that puts her in contention to seal her first victory ahead of the season-finale Investec Cup for Ladies. Williams said: ‘I’m 11th on the rankings, so a solid finish on Wednesday will put me in the top 10 and definitely take the pressure off at the Ladies Tshwane Open next week.’
Simon also suffered an uncharacteristic slump in her first three starts, but she returned to the winners’ enclosure with a six stroke victory at the Sunshine Ladies Tour Open at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington last week. A three-time winner in 2014, Simon was a model of consistency as she reeled in gains at the fourth, eighth, 10th and 16th. The 25-year old said: ‘It’s great to catch some form just before I’m heading back to the LPGA. I’m striking the ball really well, but the slower greens took a bit of getting used to. It’s nice to be in contention again and I love going into the last day with a bit of a lead. With Kim right up there and Lee-Anne chasing, it’s going to be a nice battle tomorrow.’
Pace landed back in South Africa on Monday after competing in the LPGA Tour’s HSBC Ladies Champions in Singapore, but showed no signs of slowing down. The LPGA Tour winner notched her first birdie at the fourth and erased an annoying three-putt bogey at the par-four sixth with birdie at the par-three seventh. Pace turned in one under and pushed her birdie count to four with gains at the 16th and 17th.
The Pearl Valley golfer said: ‘I didn’t miss a single green, so it should have been better. The pace was a little slower than the courses I played recently, but the ball grabs nicely on these greens. You can attack the pins and that is a big bonus. If I can put a good round together on Wednesday, I’m definitely in with a chance. I’m very happy with the way I played and it would be great to start back with a win.’
FIRST ROUND SCORES
67 – Kim Williams, Ashleigh Simon
68 – Lee-Anne Pace
69 – Nobuhle Dlamini (SWZ), Bonita Bredenhann (NAM)
70 – Lauren Taylor (ENG), Symone Henriques (AMA)
71 – Nicole Garcia
Photo: Kim Williams
Photo credit: Catherine Kotze / SASPA