South Africa’s three Ladies European Tour regulars have ended the first round of the Dubai Ladies Masters on Thursday, where Sweden’s Louise Stahle lowered Annika Sorenstam’s course record by a stroke with an eight-under-par 64.
Of the three, Ashleigh Simon posted the best round, signing for 3-under 69 after a two-birdie faultless first nine, followed by three birdies and two bogeys to finish five off overnight leader Stahle, but just two behind second-placed Laura Davies and Lisa Hall, the English pair to finish on five-under 67’s.
Laurette Maritz was the second-placed South African, who was a birdie up until a double-bogie on the eighth and a bogie on the ninth, but after a final bogie on the 10th, Maritz’s scorecard was improved with birdies at the 15th and finals flags, and finished one-over par for a share of 36th place, nine shots of the leader and four behind Simon.
Stacy Lee Bregman suffered the worst round of the South Africans competing, and her opening round was marred by six bogies and one double, against birdies on the eighth and 18th only, to finish six over par with lots of work to be done, to avoid the cut.
Stahle shot nine birdies and one bogey around the Majlis course at Emirates Golf Club to lead by three strokes over Davies and Hall, while Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson and Denmark’s Lisa Holm Sorensen were a shot further back in joint fourth on 68.
Sorenstam, who was Stahle’s idol growing up, set a women’s course record with a 65 in the first round en route to victory in the inaugural tournament last year.
The defending champion was six shots behind the leader in joint ninth position on two-under-par 70. She was taking the positives out of her round and said: "I had some really good holes and I had some less good holes so I missed a few shots and there were some putts I left out there. I’m glad I made five birdies. I did not expect to make any more birdies so I’ve just got to stay away from bogeys.
"I drove it well: a lot of good drives, fairways. I missed only three greens. Unfortunately there were some that I didn’t make up and down so I’ve got to work on that."
Stahle, 22, from Lund, made a hot start in her first visit to Dubai, with birdies on the first four holes. She then birdied the seventh before her only bogey of the day came at the eighth, giving her an outward total of 35, four-under-par.
After birdies at holes 10 and 12 she overtook Davies as the outright leader and pulled three strokes clear with two more birdies at the 15th and 16th holes.
"It tied my best ever round as an amateur but was my best round in two years as a pro," said Stahle, who played on the LPGA Tour in 2006.
She is playing in her first year on the Ladies European Tour, where she is in line to scoop the leading rookie honours on Sunday, but she said: "I’m not really thinking about that too much."