KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: England’s Georgia Hall carded an opening round 69 at the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by the Public Investment Fund to share the lead with German rookie Sophie Witt after a wind-battered opening day on Thursday.
The former British Open champion headed to the last set banking on what would have been a remarkable two-shot overnight advantage, accrued while enduring the strongest of the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club’s infamous afternoon winds, which today reached a testing 40km/h.
However, a self-admitted “brave” attempt to reach the water-guarded closing green in two saw her land in the trap, leading to a double-bogey finish and a shared first-day lead at three-under-par.
Hall said: “It was tough out there. The conditions are the hardest conditions I’ve ever played in.
“I was very happy with the way I played. I putted really well. I holed some good putts for par, which is very crucial. I just really stayed patient. I’ve done the best I could and was really proud of the way I played.
“I tried to go for it (on 18). I had a 6-iron and I wanted to give it a go but then obviously it made it tough from there.”
On the savage conditions, the 25-year-old said: “It was definitely a different golf course today. Hopefully tomorrow morning will be calmer. I would love for it to be maybe a one-club wind instead of maybe five like it was today. But, yeah, we’ll take what we get!”
A run of three back-to-back birdies in her opening four holes saw the world No. 25 get into her stride early, on a track where she holds the course record. One more birdie on the par-five ninth hole sent her out at four-under-par, before a battling one-over-par back nine as the winds picked up.
Playing in only her second event as an LET professional, 2022 rookie Sophie Witt, 20, showed no signs of nerves as she made the most of the calmer morning weather to card her 69.
The German, who only earned her Tour card at the tail-end of last year, admitted that the result was far better than she had anticipated.
She joked: “I told my mum this morning ‘Hopefully I don’t shoot a 90,’ because the last three days I hit so many thin shots! I was a little bit lucky today because I made good and bad shots. I hit the fairways, and to be honest, when I hit the green, I made birdie. The most times I didn’t hit the fairway or the green, I’d then pitch and putt. The course was on my side today, and the greens were on my side too.
“Now I want to make the cut. Yeah, it’s my rookie season, (but I’ll) have fun, enjoy it. I think I can learn so much from the good players in the field here and from my playing partners. To be honest, I’m a competition player and not a player on the range. I struggle on the range and I struggle on the course, but I can score good in competition.”
Americans Angel Yin and Lindsey Weaver-Wright sit one back on two-under-par, alongside 2022 AIG Women’s Open champion Anna Nordqvist.
“I played great today,” said Nordqvist, world No. 15. “It was blowing so hard off the back — I’ve probably never played this course this windy, and it was a different wind. It was hard sometimes holding wedges on the greens and getting them close.”
She continued: “I'm happy with my game. It was a solid start. I didn’t feel like it was that easy out there today. I feel like I managed my game very well. It’s hard to stay in it for 18 holes out there. Every shot you’re flying into 30, 35km/h side winds out there.”
Yin — a late entry to the field following defending champion Lydia Ko’s withdrawal after testing positive for COVID-19 — said: “It was a solid round. I started out rough. I don’t think I made a par until the fifth hole, but I made lots of birdies, saw a lot of opportunity, and left a few out there. I’ll make some changes tomorrow. It’s good. It’s been solid.”
Shot of the day went to 23-year-old Charlotte Liautier of France, who aced the 144-yard par-three eighth hole in only her second tournament appearance as an LET professional.
Talking through it, Liautier explained: “It was very good — it was a good ball. I just hit my 8-iron and the ball carried the green and went in the hole five meters after. The wind actually helped the ball to go in the hole!”
The action resumes Friday, with the first groups out at 7:10 a.m. For more information, visit www.golfsaudi.com.