Magdalena Simmermacher stole a march on the field on a wet and windy opening day in the Investec South African Women’s Open.
The 26-year-old Argentinian made the most of the gentler morning conditions and fired in an opening salvo of four-under-par 68 to pull clear of the field.
After a birdie start on the par-four 10th, Simmermacher plodded to the turn in pars, but turned on the fireworks over the last five holes, firing four birdies to transform her round into a field-leading effort at Steenberg Golf Club.
The 2020 Olympian finished one slender shot clear of Sweden’s Josefine Nyqvist and Alice Hewson from England, who also took advantage of an early start.
But, unlike her challengers, the Argentinian blossomed on her back nine as the wind gathered speed.
“I’m really happy with today’s round; I gave myself a lot of opportunities on the back nine, my front nine, but I only managed to make one birdie,” Simmermacher said.
“On the front nine I left myself chances close to the pin, and that’s why I ended up making four birdies on the last five holes. I played better when the wind got stronger. I’m not sure of the reason – maybe because you have to hit a certain shot, so you just focus on that.
“We played the pro-am with tough conditions, so that was good preparation. I struggled on the greens last week, but I was still playing well and today I managed the pace better.”
Having given herself some time away during the off-season as she returned to South America, she has wasted no time in getting back to her best in 2022, giving herself a solid start in the Race to Costa del Sol chase.
Augusta University graduate Nyqvist dropped only one shot on her opening hole, but shot up the leaderboard with a quartet of birdies on her outward loop. Ten straight pars from the 9th kept her within striking distance of the pacesetter.
“Today was a really nice day,” she said. “I struggled a bit in the last two tournaments, but I’ve been working at it and trusting what I do, and I guess today it paid off, so I’m very happy. I did some technical work in the off-season, but mostly I’ve been working on keeping my mindset clear and trusting what I’m doing. I’m just trying to stay positive and live in the present.
“The first nine wasn’t too bad because I teed off early, so I got lucky there. The wind picked up on the back nine, and it was hard out there. You just have to stay focused on every single shot. I just tried to hit the centre of the green and play par golf. I left some birdies out there, so I’m excited to go out and get them tomorrow.”
Hewson, who broke through for her maiden LET victory in the 2020 Investec South African Women’s Open, was an equally happy camper after putting herself in a promising position.
She made a brilliant start with an eagle on the par-five 12th and sandwiched a birdie between bogeys on 13 and 15 to out in 34. Birdies on her 15th and 17th holes pulled her level with Simmermacher, but not even the bogey finish could darken her bright smile.
“I’m very happy with how I played this morning. It was really windy out there, especially on our back nine, but I managed to control my ball height well really well,” the Englishwoman said.
“It was important to hit fairways and greens just to give yourself a few chances out there, and I made the most of some of the chances I gave myself, so hopefully more of the same tomorrow. I have some incredible memories of my first LET start and win in 2020 and it’s great that I’ve finally been able to come back. I’m just enjoying every minute of it.”
Just two off the pace, lurking at two under are Sweden’s Johanna Gustavsson, Anne-Charlotte Mora from France and Spanish duo Elia Folch and Carmen Alonso and Carmen Alonso, with a further seven players locked in on one under, including 2021 champion Lee-Anne Pace.
Level through the turn, the 41-year-old negated a bogey on the par-three 2nd with a brace of birdies on her 16th and 17th holes to put herself back within touching distance of Simmermacher.