Pearl Valley’s Lee-Anne Pace claimed her third Sunshine Ladies Tour title in the SuperSport Ladies Challenge with perfectly timed back-to-back birdies at the closing holes of Zwartkop Country Club on Wednesday. The world number 30 dashed Ashleigh Simon’s hopes of back-to-back titles and over took Kim Williams with a closing three-under-par 69 to thrill the local crowds with a grandstand finish. Pace, who won the inaugural Investec Cup for Ladies in March last year, claimed the season-opening Cell C SA Women’s Open with a play-off victory in October.
She notched her third title on the local tour with a one stroke victory on a five-under-par 137, edging out Nobuhle Dlamini, who signed for a 69, as well as Simon and Williams, who both registered 71s. The delighted champion said: ‘It was perfect to win on home soil. I hoped to be in the running, but I honestly didn’t think I could pull it off. Ashleigh was really sick this morning, but she soldiered on and played an incredible round of golf. Kim got the putter going and she was all over the pins. It was an amazing tussle between us all the way to the last hole. We all had so much support and everyone really enjoyed the skirmish. It’s fantastic to be back and I’m thrilled to be back in the mix for the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies.’ Simon and Williams started the final round at four under, one ahead of Pace.
Both notched a pair of birdies, but Simon took control when Williams dropped at the seventh. Pace, meanwhile, negated two bogeys with two birdies to turn in three under, but, the scene began to change with successive bogeys for Simon at 10 and 11, while Williams bogeyed the 11th. Pace missed a short putt at the 11th for par, but erased the mistake with a superb approach at the par-four 13th to set up a birdie putt from the back edge of the green.
The gap narrowed even further when Williams dropped on 13 and Simon bogeyed the 14th. Williams led on five under, Simon was four under and Pace lagged two behind after her playing partners both birdied the 16th. Pace said: ‘I knew I had to birdie the last two holes to have any chance, especially when we heard that Nobby birdied the 18th to finish on four under.’
The LPGA Tour winner earned the nickname “dartboard” from her playing partners during the round and put her precise iron-game on display when she hit her approach to 15 feet at the par-three 17th. Pace nailed the birdie putt to close the gap on Williams, who secured an easy par, leaving her one shot ahead going down the last. Simon travelled from the right fairway bunker to the greenside bunker at the 18th, while Pace hit her tee shot right and laid up with the second, and Williams landed her third in the fringe short of the pin.
Pace said: ‘I was hoping to finish with a birdie, at least, in case we had a play-off on five under. Ash’s ball was against the lip and she left the first trap shot in the bunker, but she struck it perfectly the second time around and had a short putt to save par. Kim hit the first putt too hard and it ran about six foot past the hole. I hit a good wedge in to about 15 feet below the pin and I knew I had a chance. I knocked it in for birdie, but I think we were all a little stunned when Kim missed the par-putt to force a play-off. Kim played great, though, and it’s nice to see her returning to form.’ Pace will take a quick trip home to visit her family, but she will be back to target successive victories in the Ladies Tshwane Open next week. Three-time Sunshine Ladies Tour winner Stacy Bregman leads the Chase to the 2015 Investec Cup for Ladies rankings with 988 points, but Pace’s victory netted her 250 points.
Pace said: ‘I’m definitely gunning for back-to-back victories. I climbed to fifth on 650 points and closed the gap on Stacy a little. I want to try and cut down her lead some more at Pretoria Country Club next week. Defending my Investec Cup for Ladies title is a big goal for me, but she is playing really well at the moment, so I need to put myself in a strong position for the season-finale.’ Sunshine Ladies Tour Open champion Simon is third in the rankings, but won’t be competing in the Investec Cup for Ladies. Pace said: ‘Ash only has two LPGA tournaments to try to qualify for the season’s first Major (ANA Inspiration). It’s a no-brainer; she has to get back to the United States and try to make it. We worked really hard to get ourselves on the LPGA Tour. We are out there representing South Africa, so it is for ourselves and for our country. I wish her well because I’d love some company in the Majors this year. On the upside, with Ash gone, it’s at least one less rival to worry about at the final.’
137 – Lee-Anne Pace 68 69
138 – Nobuhle Dlamini (SWZ) 69 69, Ashleigh Simon 67 71, Kim Williams 67 71
139 – Bonita Bredenhann (NAM) 69 70
140 – Nicole Garcia 71 69
142 – Melissa Eaton 73 69
Photo: SuperSport Ladies Challenge winner, Lee-Anne Pace
Photo credit: Catherine Kotze / SASPA