She promised the 2016 points leader Lee-Anne Pace a fight at the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies Final and Bertine Strauss delivered with a flawless 69 to lead the first round of the Sunshine Ladies Tour’s season finale at Millvale Private Retreat on Thursday. Strauss kicked off with nine straight pars, but broke the monotony with a chip-in birdie at the par four 10th. She added a brace of birdies at 14 and 15 to set the clubhouse target at three under and held the top spot on her own after joint pacesetter Monique Smit bogeyed 18 for a 70.
Smit shares second with rookie Carrie Park, who overcame a bogey-bogey start and two more dropped shots at seven and eight with a five-birdie feast from the par three 13th. Pace, who is gunning for a hat-trick of Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies titles, closed with a one over 73 to join Ashleigh Simon, Melissa Eaton and Rebecca Hudson from England in fourth. Strauss was pleased with the strong start, but said it should have been better.
The 24-year-old Koster golfer says: ‘I felt like I left quite a few birdies out there. I didn’t take advantage of the par fives and I had five-irons into two of them. I should have capitalised on the back nine, too. Still, I didn’t drop a shot and when you do that, you’re always going to have a decent score. I hit a good shot into 10, but it ran through the green. I told my caddie that I was going to chip it in and the shot came out perfectly. That birdie just gave me a little momentum down the back nine. It’s always a bonus to have the lead, but there is still a lot of golf to come. The leaderboard is tight and Millvale is a great leveller – it’s still very open.’ Pace is on a nine-event winning streak and Smit lags just 80 points behind the LPGA Tour winner in the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies Points Standing. The 2016 Ladies Tshwane Open champion needed a solid start if she hopes to pip Pace for the lion’s share of the R1-million Bonus Pool and the winner-takes-all prize of R100 000.
Smit birdied three and six and added birdies at 14 and 15 for a share of the lead, but a bad club choice at 18 proved a costly mistake for the Fancourt golfer. Smit says: ‘My tee shot landed in the rough on the right. I was between an eight or nine iron and I went with the eight iron, but the ball went straight into the creek in front of the green. That’s golf; if you make poor shots or decisions around a course like this, you have to accept the punishment. I’ve always been aggressive at Millvale in the past, but I took a more conservative approach this time. It’s left me in a good position with two rounds to play and that is exactly what I was hoping for.’ Park and Strauss played together for the first time this season and the two former number one ranked SA amateurs finished the opening round with mutual respect for each other.
Park says: ‘I messed on the front nine, but I hung in there and when I chipped in for birdie from 25 feet at 13, the confidence suddenly came back. It’s such an honour for me play with experience players at this level and watching Bertine helped me find a way to fight back. She didn’t let anything affect her on the course and she stuck to her game plan and that’s how I approached the back nine.’ Strauss was equally impressed with Park’s renaissance on the back nine. Strauss says: ‘It’s was wonderful to watch Carrie make all those birdies. She is such an incredible fighter. It’s so tough to hold your own among so many experienced players, but she did herself proud out there.’
Photo credit: Sunshine Ladies Tour.