Big guns primed for SA Women’s Open at Steenberg Golf Club

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The cream of the Sunshine Ladies Tour and Ladies European Tour have converged in the City of Cape Town for €300 000 (R4.85 million) Investec South African Women’s Open, which tees off at Steenberg Golf Club on Wednesday, 30 March.

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After the top-quality golf on display in the recent Joburg Ladies Open, there is a palpable sense of nervous anticipation ahead of South Africa’s flagship event, and the mouth-watering incentives the season-finale carries.

Lee-Anne Pace is the defending SA Women’s Open champion

Not only will the game’s big guns contest the biggest purse ever on the Sunshine Ladies Tour (SLT), but a winner’s category exemption means your future on the Ladies European Tour (LET) is secured for the remainder of the season, and the 2023 season.

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The field this year once again exudes class and quality, led by defending champion Lee-Anne Pace, looking to make yet another notation in the history books.

Pace recorded the first hat-trick in SA Women’s Open history since 1988 with a trio of triumphs at San Lameer Country Club in 2014, 2015 and 2017 and extended her legacy last year, edging out Germany’s Leonie Harms in a cliff-hanger finish for a record fourth win at Westlake Golf Course.

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With 10 wins on the LET, 14 titles on the SLT and a LPGA win to her name, the 41-year-old has experience in heaps and when you add a hat-trick of Cape Town Ladies Open titles into the mix, her affinity for winning in the Mother City and her shot-shaping skills in the wind, she is definitely among the pre-tournament favourites.

Reigning Investec Order of Merit leader Linn Grant is undoubtedly the most in-form player in the starting line-up at Steenberg.

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The 22-year-old Swede not only won on debut on the local circuit but made it a brace of SLT titles in three starts with her wins in the Dimension Data Ladies Challenge and Jabra Ladies Classic. Last Saturday she backed up her top billing with a five-shot victory at Modderfontein to seal a maiden LET victory.

Two South Africans who are certainly due for a LET breakthrough are Nicole Garcia and Stacy Bregman, who are both coming into the week in strong form.

Bregman, the runner-up in 2013, catapulted up the leaderboard with a final round 70 at Modderfontein Golf Club to finish joint seventh, while Garcia, third last year, claimed a top 10 in her first start of the LET season at the Aramco Saudi Ladies International, and tied for third in Johannesburg. Expect the local pair to push their games to the limit this week.

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In the first three events of the European season, a number of young European rising stars raised their hands and will be keen to follow former maiden winners Alice Hewson from England (2020) and India’s Diksha Dagar (2019) into the winner’s circle.

None more so than Kristyna Napoleaova and Kim Metraux.

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Respectively ranked fifth and sixth in the Race to Costa del Sol, Napoleaova from the Czech Republic tied for second in Jeddah, while the Swiss golfer Metraux edged Garcia, Hewson and Maria Hernandez from Spain in the final round of the Joburg Ladies Open for the runner-up spot.

Another up-and-coming golfer looking to cash in on a LET win is American Kelly Whaley.

The 23-year-old received an invitation into the Saudi event, where she fired a final round 63 to that featured eight straight birdies and tied the course record. A top 10 finish secured her a spot in the Joburg Ladies Open, and she extended her stay on the LET with yet another top 10 finish at Modderfontein.

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The local challenge is further strengthened by multiple SLT champions Casandra Hall, Lejan Lewthwaite and Nobuhle Dlamini from eSwatini, as well as 2022 SunBet Cape Town Ladies Open winner Nadia van der Westhuizen.

A total field of 132 players representing 27 countries, including six amateur starters, will vie to make the cut to 60 professionals and ties at the 36-hole mark and have a chance to shoot for the lion’s share of the purse, and the biggest trophy in South African women’s golf.

Steenberg awaits those consumed with a desire to lift the Sunshine Ladies Tour’s flagship trophy, whether in swashbuckling style of Ashleigh Buhai’s final round march to victory in 2018 or the masterful manner in which Pace clinched her fourth title 12 months ago.

Entry is free to the 2022 event, but spectators are reminded that they must present proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test, not older than 72 hours.

All four rounds of the 72-hole tournament will also be broadcast live on SuperSport Channel 213 from 12:00 to 17:00 daily.

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