A nine-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, Pace birdied six of her first 11 holes at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and had one blemish at the 16th, but recovered with a birdie on 18.
The 36-year-old South African said afterwards: “I played nicely, hit 14 greens and made quite a few putts for par saves, so the putter was working. I had a long putt, a tap-in and then another longer putt again from off the green. It got me going.
“It wasn’t perfect but I did make a lot of putts and seven birdies is quite nice. It’s the first time that I’ve played here and the par-5s are definitely reachable. I messed one up, the 15th, where I went into the water, but I managed to get a par there.”
Pace, whose most recent victory on the LET came at the 2014 South African Women’s Open, the same year that she won the Blue Bay LPGA in China, is one stroke ahead of six other players: Jenny Haglund, Marianne Skarpnord, Amy Boulden, Isi Gabsa, Aditi Ashok and Florentyna Parker.
Brit Georgia Hall who came so close in 2016 as runner-up, commented earlier this week that it would be ‘great to go one better’ and win the milestone event this year, and her round of 69 certainly backed up her statement. The 21-year-old racked up seven birdies throughout her round and said: “I played really well today, I hit loads of greens, my long game was really good, I just couldn’t hole anything on the front nine.
She added: “I could have easily hit seven-under today. The greens were a little hard to read on the front nine, because you’ve got to read the grain too but it’s a solid start for day one. I’ve played the first round now so I am off and going, hopefully I can just putt a little better tomorrow.”
Beth Allen, the defending champion, chipped in for birdie on 18 in a round of 73 and is seven strokes from the lead, while Mel Reid fired a 77 but later withdrew from the tournament with a back injury.
The first day was a fitting start to the second edition of the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open, which remains the country’s first professional women’s golf tournament. Bright sunshine drew in the crowds, who swept through the gates and avidly followed the first day leaders around the course.
His Excellency Aref Al Awani, General Secretary at Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC), owner of the event, said: “The second edition of the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open is another step in Abu Dhabi’s journey as a global sports destination.
He added: “We’ve seen world-class action from the Ladies European Tour’s top stars today and it promises to be an inspiring and action-packed few days. We encourage everyone to come down to Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and be a part of history being made.”
Aiming to inspire and develop the next generation of Emirati golfers, the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy hosted a number of off-course events for families on the first day, including a clinic with stars Vikki Laing, Gemma Dryburgh and Justine Dreher and a golfing ladies lunch.
The Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open teed up more than just golf at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, with visitors enjoyingactivities such as chipping challenges, the regions first-ever ‘paint golf’, and introductory beginners’ sessions in the popular tournament village, as well as culinary delights from Theo’s Point.
The Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open is free for the public to attend and runs from Wednesday, 1st November to Saturday, 4th November, 2017 at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.
The FBMLO is sponsored by: FBMA, Abu Dhabi Sports Council, TDIC, Al Masaood, Etihad Airways and Marriott Downtown Abu Dhabi.
photos Janos Schmidt