Gutsy Pace prevails to lift fifth SA Women’s Open title
South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace dispatched the challenge of Argentina’s Magdalena Simmermacher in a six-hole playoff to win a record fifth SA Open title, cementing her place as a modern great.
If there is a virtue in holding on for dear life, then Lee-Anne Pace displayed it in spades. She came back from the dead and triumphed in a gruelling six-hole playoff to win her record fifth Investec South African Women’s Open Championship title at Steenberg Golf Club in Cape Town on Saturday, 2 April.
“I can’t believe it, I honestly can’t believe it, I’m in shock,” said Pace after she eventually dispatched the challenge of Argentina’s Magdalena Simmermacher. The duo were tied on level par after 72 holes of regulation play.
That was after overnight leader Becky Brewerton of Wales heartbreakingly slipped out of contention after a final round six-over 78 to miss out on a play-off spot by one.
In addition to her fifth South African Women’s Open title, it was also Pace’s 11th Ladies European Tour victory and her 15th Sunshine Ladies Tour title — and she also earned herself a place at the US Women’s Open later in the year.
“I was a little down at the beginning of the week because I just missed out on the majors — by 20 points on last year’s ranking, or something like that,” she said. “So, it’s great to earn a place in the majors.”
Making it when it counted
She started the day seven shots behind Brewerton, but the Mossel Bay native played the conditions superbly throughout the day.
Pace kept things cool for the first part of her round, but a terrific burst after the turn saw her put herself back in contention. She had pars all through the front nine, before birdies on 10, 12 and 16 put her back in the conversation, albeit with a dropped shot on the 11th.
“I needed that birdie on 10,” Pace said. “I was getting a bit frustrated with my putts not going in. I missed the shot off the green and got a bit lucky, but I got it on the green and holed the putt, so that gave me some confidence coming in.
“The 11th was always going to be a tough hole, whether you go in with a wedge or go for the green. I decided to go for it and had a terrible lie; I had to hit it, but I backed off it a bit, unfortunately. I’d been struggling on the greens all week. I’d been hitting so many greens all week, and everything came together except the putter, and nothing wanted to drop, but when it really counted it did on the last hole.”
Meanwhile, Simmermacher had led after the first round in Cape Town, but found herself alongside Pace on two-over heading into the final day. A third round 77 saw her drop down the standings in the breezy conditions.
Birdies on five and nine put the Argentinian in contention, before two bogeys and two birdies on the back nine saw her complete the day in 70 shots and set up the nail-biting finale.
And with the sun starting to set over Cape Town, both players pulled out a number of spectacular shots to keep the contest alive.
The par-five 18th had been causing issues for players all week, with the tight green and water on the right-hand side meaning there was all sorts of trouble to be avoided. Both players kept things fairly routine for their opening three journeys down the last, with pars apiece every time.
Then, with the tee box moved forward 75 metres, things started to get interesting as both players started chasing the green in two.
A miraculous bunker escape from Simmermacher then forced a fifth play-off hole, before two fantastic approaches and putts saw the duo head back to the tee for a sixth time. And that’s when the pressure eventually told, as Simmermacher hit her second into the water, paving the way for Pace to two-putt her way to victory, and she made no mistake.
Further down the rankings, Casandra Alexander of South Africa and England’s Felicity Johnson finished in a tie for fourth on three over, as Alexander went round in level par for the day, while Johnson shot 74 for her final 18 holes. France’s Agathe Sauzon also shot level par to take sixth on her own at five over, while four players shared seventh on six over.
Order of Merit
Linn Grant from Sweden, who claimed her maiden Ladies European Tour title in the co-sanctioned Joburg Ladies Open, backed up last week’s victory with another strong performance, finishing in a tie for seventh with fellow Scandinavians Madelene Stavnar and Tiia Koivisto and France’s Emma Grechi.
Seventh place for Grant was also enough for her to seal the Investec Order of Merit title, with three victories in South Africa to start the year, with the win in Johannesburg adding to successes at the Dimension Data Ladies Challenge and Jabra Ladies Classic in February.
“I just had the best couple of weeks here, I’m glad that I decided to come for eight weeks and start my season over here,” Grant said. “I’ve met some great people, including Lee-Anne, I’ve had the best time and played some great golf as well.”
Race up the rankings
Reigning South African Women’s Amateur Stroke Play champion Kiera Floyd held her nerve in the gusting wind to keep pace with the professionals. She tied 26th place on 10-over, which saw the 17-year-old GolfRSA National Squad member lift the prestigious Jackie Mercer Trophy as the leading amateur in the 132-strong field.
The fifth South African Women’s Open trophy came with a R728,550 payday in the City of Cape Town and a bank of points that rocketed Pace to the top of the 2022 Race to Costa del Sol rankings. She sits on 681.67 points, with Grant in second place on 586.25.
For Pace, all of this means it’s time to believe it. She will board a plane to Thailand on Monday, 4 April, brimming with confidence ahead of her next two events and basking in the knowledge that she is comfortably the most successful player in the history of the South African Women’s Open Championship. DM