31/07/2017 Ladies European Tour 2017: Ricoh Women's British Open, Final Qualifier. The Castle Course, St Andrews, Fife. Scotland 31 July 2017. Nicole Garcia of South Africa during the play-off. Credit: Tristan Jones. 2nd August 2017 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

Garcia and Buhai join Pace at Kingsbarns

Nicole Garcia and Ashleigh Buhai are primed to start the Ricoh Women’s British Open alongside compatriot Lee-Anne Pace after securing their spots in the season’s fourth Major Championship the hard way.

The Sunshine Ladies Tour duo was among the 111 players who had to battle it out for the last 22 places in the field for Kingsbarns in the Final Qualifier played at St Andrews on Monday.

Reigning Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies champion Buhai lived up to her star billing and set the early target at the Castle Course at the home of golf with a four-under-par 68. She was later joined by American pair Paula Creamer and Tiffany Joh, but the trio’s target was bettered by one shot by Ursula Wikstrom from Finland.

Garcia, however, had a long and nervy wait after posting a 70.

When play wrapped up, the 2017 Dimension Data Ladies Challenge champion joined 13 other players on two under in a sudden-death play-off for the remaining 11 spots and Garcia’s resolve was really tested after she missed the mark at the first extra hole.

A total of 10 players qualified with pars at the short 10th hole, including Dame Laura Davies, and the Benoni player had to join the remaining three players at the par four 11th. Sunshine Ladies Tour campaigner Laura Sedda from Italy was eliminated with a bogey and it was on to the par five 15th. With Buhai and Wanna Be A Champion coach Doug Wood cheering her on, the South African used her length off the tee well to set up a great shot to the green, but adrenaline got the better of Garcia.

“I flew the green with my second and I was stuck in the long grass at the back of the green,” said the Benoni golfer. “I knew it was do or die and I hit the best chip of my life and stuck it to four feet, but I rattled that putt home to win the hole and the last spot.

“I am so, so happy, because that was the longest day of my life. Thought I’d blown it on the first play-off hole, but I got a reprieve. What a relief. I went from agony to ecstasy in two seconds flat. I played solid golf during the round, but I missed a few crucial putts that put me back on the border line.

“I had a great back nine, though, with the wind picking up and I am much happier with my game after a really disappointing performance in the Scottish Open.”

Garcia wasn’t the only player whose head hung after two rounds of the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open.

Buhai led the five-strong South African challenge with an opening 74 but a trio of bogeys on the back nine saw her sign for a 76 in the second round that cut short her stay at in North Ayrshire along with Garcia, Lee-Anne Pace, Stacy Bregman and Paula Reto.

“You go to the Scottish Open with the hope of a great week that will get you into the British Women’s Open, so it was hugely disappointing to miss the cut by just one shot,” said Buhai. “I had to just get over it as quickly as possible to bring a positive attitude to the Final Qualifying.

“I played really nicely at St Andrews. I hit 16 out of 18 greens and had a lot of birdie chances. I hit a lot of good shots and I left a few putts out there, but overall I’ll take it. You’ve just got to be steady in qualifiers and take your birdies when they come. It’s more about keeping the bogeys off the card.

“I’m really happy with how I am hitting the ball. I love the Women’s British Open and I missed getting in by a week this year, so I’m excited to take this game into the first round at Kingsbarns.”

Pace, whose early exit from the Dundonald Links course came courtesy of rounds of 77 and 74, is equally keen to get the Ricoh Women’s British Open underway.

“I’m feeling really good about this week,” said Pace. “I actually played quite well at Dundonald, but I just didn’t score. I’m striking the ball well and my coach came over, so we worked on a few things. The Kingsbarns course is fantastic and I’m raring to go.”

The 41st staging of the Ricoh Women’s British Open will see Ariya Jutanugarn from Thailand in title defence, while other top players to watch include 2015 champion Inbee Park and world number one So Yeon Ryu from South Korea.

PHOTO – Nicole Garcia; credit Triston Jones / LET.

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