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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Lee-Anne Pace thanks her putter after claiming first round lead at Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Open

The South African's round of 66 puts her ahead by one shot of six chasing players at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.

Lee-Anne Pace is the leader after the first round of the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Open at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club. Francois Nel / Getty Images
Lee-Anne Pace is the leader after the first round of the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Open at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club. Francois Nel / Getty Images

Lee-Anne Pace credited her putting for giving her a one-shot lead on the opening day of the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Open at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club on Wednesday.

The South African's round of 66 was enough to put her six-under, one ahead of a group of six players made up of Jenny Haglund, Marianne Skarpnord, Amy Boulden, Isi Gabsa Aditi Ashok and Florentyna Parker.

Pace, 36, birdied six of her first 11 holes and bogeyed the 16th, before recovering with a birdie on the 18th to ensure she will start Thursday's second round leading the field in Abu Dhabi.

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“I played nicely, hit 14 greens and made quite a few putts for par saves, so the putter was working,” said the nine-time winner on the Ladies European Tour (LET), whose most recent victory was at the South African Open in October 2014.

“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.”

Beth Allen, winner of the inaugural event 12 months ago, chipped in for a birdie on the 18th for a round of 73 which leaves the American seven strokes behind the lead in 76th position.

Briton Mel Reid, third last year, fired a 77 but later withdrew from the tournament due to a back injury.

Gabsa joined Pace after reeling off six birdies on the back stretch but two bogeys, including one on the final hole, left the German with the five others in the group in second position.

Haglund, who fired six birdies and a bogey, said she was happy with the first day’s work to maintain her impressive form in 2017.

“It was my putting that worked really well,” said the Swede. “I made a lot of putts and lot of birdies and I put some foot quick shots real close as well.

“My game has been good this year. I started off really good in Spain and Morocco, and I kind of didn’t play well towards the middle of the year. But started playing well now again in the end of the year. So far so good.”

Skarpnord added: “Yes, I played good. Just a bit tired this morning. Had a wake-up call at about 4.30 but I played solid. We got a bit lucky on 18, so it was a good start."

Boulden finished strongly with four birdies after bogeying the 10th to join the chasing pack.

“I played good,” the Welsh player said. “I had a lot of birdie chances and my puts weren’t that great today. I holed a few putts but I did miss a few short ones which is very unlike me.

“I think there is quite a lot of green on them. I wasn’t great in the middle of them. But still I’m very happy with my round.”

Georgia Hall, 21, the runner-up last year, is in contention again after starting with a three-under-par 69.

“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,” said the Briton.

“I could have easily hit seven-under. 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.”

Play begins on Thursday at 6.35am with Pace scheduled to tee off with Allen and Bronte Law from the 10th tee at 7.35am.