Cape Town - South Africa's Ashleigh Buhai reeled in three birdies on the back nine of Westlake Golf Club to race into the first round lead of the R2-million South African Women's Open on Thursday.
Buhai made the most of the tranquil conditions in Cape Town to fire a three-under-par 69 and opened up a one shot lead on the three-way tie for second.
"I saw at the turn that the leaders were on two-under, so I set myself a goal of three-under," Buhai confessed. "We were very lucky with the conditions, because the wind didn't blow as it did during the pro-am. I knew there would be a few under out there and I was very patient."
Buhai leads by one shot from big-hitting Bonita Bredenhann from Namibia, who set the clubhouse target alongside fellow early starter Silvia Bannon from Spain. Germany's Karolin Lampert joined the pack at two under in the late afternoon.
Former Canon Ladies Tshwane Open champion Kiran Matharu from England finished in fifth place with a one-under-par 71, while rising star Ivanna Samu was the next best-placed South African.
Samu tied for sixth on level par with recent SA Women's Masters winner Laura Fuenfstueck from Germany, French pair Manon Molle and Camille Chevalier, Maha Haddioui from Morocco and three-time Ladies European Tour winner Florentyna Parker.
Buhai won the South African Women's Open twice as an amateur - first as a 14-year-old at her home club, Royal Johannesburg and Kensington in 2004 and again just before she turned pro in 2007 at Durban Country Club.
She's made no secret of her desire to capture the prestigious title a third time over the last couple of years and came into the week with a winning mind-set.
Buhai started the 2018 Sunshine Ladies Tour season with a runner-up finish in the Ladies Tshwane Open and claimed her eighth trophy with a commanding wire-to-wire victory in the Joburg Ladies Open a week later.
Then she jetted off to Australia for a three-week stint on the LPGA Tour.
"I was a little jetlagged coming home and caught a cold somewhere along my travels, but this morning I felt right as rain and ready to go," said Buhai.
She cancelled a bogey at the second with a birdie at eighth to turn level, and holed a 20-footer at the par-four 12th to spark some momentum on the back nine.
"I'd been very patient up to that point, but sometimes you just need to make some good pars to keep the round going," said the 27-year-old Edenvale native. "I put a really good stroke on the putt at 12 and that got me into red numbers.
"I nearly holed out at the 15th and I was so sorry the ball didn't drop. They've put up a painting as a hole-in-one prize and Dave (Buhai) and I just bought a flat, so we could use some art. I hit a really good approach into 18 and finished pin-high left, about 20 foot from the pin.
"It was quite a tricky little putt and Dave and I both had a good look. I decided to hit it inside right and it went right in. Winning this as an amateur was huge for me, but now, with two Major starts in play, it's really something I'd like to get done this year."
Ethel Ruthenburg from Southern Cape led the 12-strong amateur contingent with a two-over 74, while defending champion Lee-Anne Pace finished a further two strokes adrift after an opening 76.
First Round Scores:
All competitors RSA unless otherwise specified and amateurs are indicated as AMA:
69 - Ashleigh Buhai
70 - Bonita Bredenhann (NAM), Silvia Banon (ESP), Karolin Lampert (GER)
71 - Kiran Matharu (ENG)
72 - Maha Haddioui (MAR), Manon Molle (FRA), Camille Chevalier (FRA), Ivanna Samu, Laura Fuenfstueck (GER), Florentyna Parker (ENG)
73 - Luiza Altmann (BRA), Valentine Derrey (FRA), Ursula Wikstrom (FIN), Annabel Dimmock (ENG), Stacy Bregman, Ana Menendez (MEX), Eun-Jung Ji (ESP), Celine Borge (NOR), Christine Wolf (AUT), Lydia Hall (WAL), Stina Resen (NOR), Francesca Cuturi
74 - Sarah Schober (AUT), Valdis Thora Jonsdottir (ISL), Kylie Henry (SCO), Fanny Cnops (BEL), Ethel Ruthenberg AMA, Lejan Lewthwaite, Cajsa Persson (SWE), Agathe Sauzon (FRA), Linda Wessberg (SWE), Camilla Hedberg (ESP), Hayley Davis (ENG), Katja Pogacar (SVN), Emma Nilsson (SWE), Tiia Kovisto (FIN), Lina Boqvist (SWE), Lora Assad, Johanna Gustavsson (SWE), Hannah Burke (ENG), Jane Turner (SCO), Lauren Taylor (ENG), Piti Martinez Bernal (ESP), Lucrezia Colombotto Rosso (ITA)
75 - Clara Pietri (SUI), Sofie Bringner (SWE), Ines Lescudier (FRA), Anne-Lise Caudal (FRA), Rosie Davies (ENG), Tandi Mc Callum, Sarah Bouch AMA, Caryn Louw, Vani Kapoor (IND), Maria Siegenthaler (ESP), Mariell Bruun (NOR), Ellinor Haag (SWE)
76 - Bertine Strauss, Melissa Eaton, Elia Folch (ESP), Maria Beautell (ESP), Hanna Roos (SWE), Chloe Leurquin (BEL), Caroline Rominger (SUI), Kaylah Williams AMA, Laura Sedda (ITA), Sideri Vanova (CZE), Emie Peronnin (FRA)
77 - Danielle du Toit AMA, Kim Williams, Nicole Garcia, Carmen Alonso (ESP), Laura Murray (SCO), Rachael Goodall (ENG), Woo-Ju Son AMA, Lindi Coetzee AMA, Alana van Greuning, Sanna Nuutinen (FIN), Rachel Raastad (NOR), Annelie Weimenhog (SWE), Lynn Carlsson (SWE), Emilie Alonso (FRA), Jessica Karlsson (SWE), Sarah Nilsson (SWE)
78 - Carly Booth (SCO), Nobuhle Dlamini (SWZ), Lee-Anne Pace, Kelsey Macdonald (SCO), Tara Griebenow AMA, Michelle Swanepoel, Jamila Jaxaliyeva (KAZ), Kelsey Nicholas AMA, Alexandra Lennartsson (SWE), Marita Engzelius (NOR), Emma Westin (SWE), Noemi Jimenez Martin (ESP)
79 - Emilie Piquot (FRA), Mae Cornforth, Morgana Robbertze
80 - Anna Becker-Frankel (SWE), Josefin Odenring (SWE), Chiara Contomathios
81 - Flora Peuch (FRA), Mireia Prat (ESP), Yolanda Duma, Johanna Bjork (SWE), Siviwe Duma
82 - Mimmi Bergman (SWE), Nina Grey AMA, Michelle de Vries, Lara Weinstein, Nastja Banovec (SVN)
83 - Katia Shaff AMA (AUT), Leslie Grandet (MAD), Shawnelle de Lange, Muriel McIntyre (CAN)
85 - Bianca Wernich AMA
86 - Rachel Rossel (SUI), Cassidy Williams AMA
88 - Lisa Anderson (SWE)
89 - Laura Welch (CAN)
90 - Tijana Kraljevic