Advice from South Africa’s team captain Gary Player helped Paula Reto to make a significant move on day two of the Women’s Golf Competition in Rio de Janeiro, while compatriot Ashleigh Simon’s decision to let go also paid dividends on Thursday.
Reto was in a buoyant mood after a four-under-par 67 that will see her start the third round six shots behind seven-time Major champion Inbee Park, whose successive rounds of 66 at the Olympic Course saw her take top spot at 10-under-par 132.
Frustrated with the putter after opening with a three over 75, Reto consulted nine-time Major champion Player. Not surprisingly, the short stick had a change of heart.
The Cape Town native produced a trio of birdies on the front nine to get back to level par and wiped out a soft bogey at 16 with a birdie-birdie finish to tie for 32nd.
‘That was a lot better today,’ said an upbeat Reto. ‘I had lunch with Mr Player and I took the plunge and asked him to look at my game.
‘He was really amazing and gave me some great feedback. He helped me out with my putting and chipping and had a look at my swing; pretty much helped me all-round.
‘I went out there today feeling a lot more confident and I stuck to the things he pointed out and I had a really had a great day. I want to work a bit more on distance control and putting, but overall I’m really happy with how I played and I’m excited to go back out there tomorrow.’
Simon was down in the deep forties at four over after a 75 after day one, but she also managed to shave some shots off her deficit.
The four-time Sunshine Ladies Tour winner dropped successive shots at the third and fourth holes, but she holed a birdie putt at the par five fifth and that changed the tide.
‘I started off rocky again,’ Simon said. ‘I didn’t feel like my swing was quite there, so I told myself to free it up and once I had that feeling, I managed to play the last 11 holes really well.’
Simon notched gains at 14, 16 and 18 to close with a much improved two-under 69 to share 41st with 14-time Ladies European Tour champion Gwladys Nocera from France.
Park competed at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, but after missing the cut, she skipped the next two majors to nurse an ongoing thumb injury and the hiatus allowed her to prepare for Rio.
She arrived in great spirits and carried that positive attitude to the course to produce a bogey-free 66 in round one. In the second round, she dropped just one shot on her way to another 66 and the lead.
The South Korean is looking a lot like the player who has won seven majors, but she has some serious contenders breathing down her neck.
Lewis hasn’t won in more than two years, but she has taken nine runner-up finishes and the former world number one set the course on fire with an eight-under-par 63 in round two to get within a shot of Park.
More trouble brews just a further stroke back in the form of Canadian Brooke Henderson, who birdied the last four holes for a 64 to tie Charley Hull from Great Britain for third. Henderson might only be 18 years old, but she dispatched current world number one Lydia Ko in a play-off for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship title earlier this year.
Lewis and Henderson are in serious pursuit, but Park has plans of her own.
These games are all about the gold, silver and bronze. With four players in the field, there has been some serious talk back in South Korea about sweeping the podium.
‘Being a Korean women’s golfer, I think we always have that kind of pressure on our shoulders,’ Park told AFP. ‘It’s hard, because we play 30 events a year, and there isn’t many weeks where all Korean golfers finish first, second and third.’
‘Being able to do it in the Olympics would be something unreal, but obviously it’s going to be something that’s very, very hard to do with all the great competitors around the world. It is a lot of pressure for us. It is a really hard one. But you know, we really can’t help it.’
Ko, meanwhile, is also finding the going a little tough and sits at joint 22 after rounds of 69 and 70.
By Lali Stander