Ashleigh Buhai made the perfect start in her quest to secure a third Investec South African Women’s Open title with a sparkling 69 at Westlake Golf Club in Cape Town on Thursday.
Maintaining the good form that earned her an eighth Sunshine Ladies Tour trophy with a five-shot winning margin in the Joburg Ladies Open last month, South Africa’s leading international golfer made a measured start with a bogey on her second hole and a birdie on her seventh for a level par front nine, but she racked up three birdies on the backward nine, with gains at the 11th, 15th and 18th.
The 28-year-old Royal Johannesburg and Kensington golfer, who twice won her national title as an amateur, in 2004 and 2007, said that she was feeling much better having recovered from the jet lag of coming home after three LPGA events in Australia and Asia.
“I’m very pleased. I’ve been a little tired because I’ve had a long three weeks overseas in hot weather. I just tried to stay focused today and play maintenance and not get too far ahead of myself and it seemed to work,” said Buhai, whose two wins on the Ladies European Tour came at the 2007 Catalonia Ladies Masters and the 2011 Portugal Ladies Open.
“I did stay patient and I was hitting some good shots. It’s a funny game, once you hole one, you tend to hole a few more, so I just needed that putt to drop on 11, and it was a really long 35-footer. Then I holed two good putts on 15 and 18.
“On 15, I nearly holed my tee shot and made a nice birdie and then I really wanted to make that birdie on 18, because I saw the leaders were on two under, so my goal was to get to three to be the clubhouse leader.
“We got pretty lucky with the weather, because it wasn’t anywhere near as windy as the past few days. We had a bit of rain on our back nine and none of us were prepared but we’re not going to complain about it. Despite the drought, the greens are fantastic and they use bore hole water here at Westlake and they have managed to get the course really green.
“The layout is really good and you’ve got to play consistent golf. You’ve got to shape the ball both ways as there are a lot of tee shots that are dog legs left to right and right to left. I feel at the moment I’m shaping the ball whatever way I need to and I’ve worked on it hard the last few weeks. I’m very happy with the way I went today and hopefully a few more days like that.”
Buhai is one ahead of three other players: Bonita Bredenhann from Namibia, Silvia Bañon from Spain and Karolin Lampert of Germany. England’s Kiran Matharu, who won the 2017 Canon Ladies Tshwane Open on the Sunshine Ladies Tour, is a stroke back in fifth place on one-under-par. There are six further players on level par including the 2017 Estrella Damm Mediterranean Ladies Open winner Florentyna Parker, the recent SA Women’s Masters champion Laura Fuenfstueck, South African Ivanna Samu, French pair Camille Chevalier and Manon Mollé and Maha Haddioui from Morocco.
The second round of the 54-hole championship gets under way at 7.20am on Friday, with Buhai starting from the 10th hole at 8am.