England’s Charley Hull shot a bogey-free five-under-par 67 in the Ladies European Tour’s season-opening event, the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open, at the stunning Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in Abu Dhabi, on Thursday.
The 22-year-old Solheim Cup star, who is seeking her third professional title, opened up a two-stroke lead over Dane Nicole Broch Larsen and Spain’s Luna Sobron, with England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Australian Rebecca Artis and Sweden’s Cajsa Persson a shot further back on two-under.
Hull rolled in five birdies in hot and breezy conditions, including four in her first seven holes and said: “I played pretty steady and holed a few putts and then on my back nine, I plodded along. I was hitting good putts, which lipped out, so the highlights were on my front nine.”
Those highlights included a birdie putt from 15 feet at the 10th hole, a one footer at the 11th and 10 feet putts for birdie at the 13th and 16th respectively. At the sixth, she struck her ball to within four feet of the flag and holed it.
In the unpredictable winds, Hull said that controlling the amount of spin generated by her new irons was a challenge and she would change her game plan for Friday’s second round.
“The newer irons are not quite where I want them to be. They are spinning loads and I don’t really like it,” she said. “I’ve changed my set of irons this week and I’m trying them out but they are going a club shorter so I’ll change back to my old ones when I get home. I’ll practise my punch shots and figure out how to keep them low.”
Sobron, who also enjoys the challenge of playing in the wind, carded a course record 10-under-par 62 the last time the event was played at Saadiyat Beach GC, in November 2017.
She was content with a 69, which included four birdies and a bogey. Her only dropped shot came on the 16th, but she shook it off by making a 15-metre long birdie putt on the 17th, with the flagstick in, which is permitted under the new Rules of Golf.
Sobron, who is seeking her first LET title, said: “I enjoy playing in the wind and I like to play on Scottish courses, so I feel very comfortable in these conditions. The weather is really good. It’s too cold in Spain now, so I prefer to start the season here, with a great tournament.”
Broch Larsen, the 2015 Helsingborg Open champion, was three-over after her first four holes and went out in 39 but came home with six birdies for a back nine of 30.
She said: “I got off to a bad start to say the least. I hit some bad shots and couldn’t find the rhythm. On the back nine, I said, ‘Nicole, try what you’ve been working on the last couple of days,’ and I started to hit some better shots and gained some confidence, so it was a lot more fun. It’s playing tough and you’ve got to hit good shots. I was good at judging the wind on the back nine.”
A group of six players share seventh place, including three Swedes, a Norwegian, a German and a Spaniard, who are all enjoying their escape from the cold European winter climate.
The defending champion, Indian Aditi Ashok, opened with a four-over-par 76 after a double bogey on the long 15th hole and a closing pair of bogeys, which left her nine shots from the lead. She said that playing in the windy conditions proved tough and she was a little rusty with her irons but would re-focus for the second round.
The Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open continues on Friday, when the leaders can expect tougher conditions with a stiffer breeze for the afternoon wave.