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25th January 2016 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

Pace predicts; Smit and Simon comply

Ladies Chase to Investec Cup: Day 1Following her Ladies Joburg Open triumph, South Africa’s top golf export Lee-Anne Pace predicted that Ashleigh Simon or Monique Smit would win the next event on the Sunshine Ladies Tour and the pair certainly didn’t disappoint at the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies on Monday.

Smit and Simon opened with a couple of three-under-par 69s to top the first round leaderboard at Houghton Golf Club and they will sleep on a two shot lead.

South African duo Nicole Garcia and Stacy Bregman tied for third at one under in the internationally flavoured chasing pack alongside England’s Rebecca Hudson, Nobuhle Dlamini from Swaziland, South Korea’s Carrie Park, Alexandra Lennartson from Sweden.

Smit is hunting a third title, while Simon is chasing a fifth podium finish since the Sunshine Ladies Tour launched in 2014.

Simon picked up her first birdie at the par-five third.

“I laid up after hitting driver off the tee and hit a controlled wedge to eight feet,” said Simon after her flawless exhibition at Houghton.

“Monique birdied the second and made it a hat-trick of birdies at three and four. Then she birdied the 10th as well, and I knew I better start catching up.”

Simon hit her approach at the par-four 15th to four feet and boxed the putt, but she was only one shot shy of Smit heading down the last hole after the Garden Route player three-putted for bogey at 17.

“I went for the flag at 18 and nearly holed out for eagle,” said Simon.

“The ball actually touched the pin and rolled about three feet past, but I nailed the putt for birdie.”

Smit enjoyed the tussle with Simon on the back of a high-pressure final round against Pace and Simon at the Ladies Joburg Open.

“It’s the kind of pressure that feeds your competitive streak and you automatically step up your game,” Smit said.

“Ash and I are both striking the ball well and hitting fairways and greens, although I struggled a little with the pace of the greens on the back nine. The greens were hollow-tined a week or so ago. They are running very true, but the pace is a lot slower than the greens on the West Course. And they had 80mm rain on Sunday night, so they really couldn’t cut them to get them faster.”

Like Smit, Simon is thrilled to have a chance at banking an early victory in this year’s R1-million Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies.

“I’m going to miss two events when I go to Australia in February, but I also have to try and open my account on the LPGA Tour,” she said. “To win here this week will give me a bit of a cushion, but even a second or third place finish is worth valuable points.”

Pace followed the scoring from Cape Town International Airport where she was waiting to board a flight to the United States to compete in the LPGA Tour’s Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic at the Paradise Island Golf Resort in the Bahamas.

“I definitely expected one or both of them to be leading after playing with them in the final round at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington,” said the newly-minted Ladies Joburg Open champion.

“They were both striking the ball really well and their short games were sharp. It’s going to be interesting to see who will win the battle of the wills this week.”

Meanwhile Bregman hopes to heat up her putter to give the pacesetters a run for their money in Tuesday’s second round.

“I was two under at the turn and birdied 10, but then I gave shots back at 12 and 17,” said four-time Sunshine Ladies Tour champion.

“I hit almost every greens and fairways, but probably missed seven or eight birdie chances from inside eight feet. But now that we our events are over 54 holes, I definitely believe I have a chance; I just need to microwave the putter.”

Photo - Ashleigh Simon and Monique Smit; credit Sunshine Ladies Tour.