Smith wins New Zealand Women’s Open
BY Bruce Young | ALPG Tour | 2011 New Zealand Women's Open | Final Round | 20 Feb 2011
22 year old West Australian golfer, Kristie Smith, has today won her first Ladies European Tour title following an impressive final round of 68 at the Pegasus New Zealand Women’s Open at the Pegasus Golf and Sports Club near Christchurch.
Only five players would break 70 today reflecting the most difficult conditions of the week.
Jaclyn Sweeny’s round of 67 was the best but Smith’s 68, given the circumstances, was particularly special. Last week, at the ANZ RACV Ladies Masters on the Gold Coast, Smith faltered over the closing two rounds after leading at the halfway mark but today she hardly put a foot wrong in the breezy conditions, moving from five shots behind 54 hole leader, Italian Guilia Sergas, to win by three over Sergas and American Tiffany Joh.
Sergas just a few minutes after her third round yesterday was informed that she had incurred two shot penalty for slow play. Despite the penalty and a horror finish to round three, she had still led by four shots over England’s Laura Davies heading into today’s final round but further misfortune was about to come her way.
Sergas, who was looking for her first win anywhere as a professional, dropped five shots in her opening three holes in round four and before she knew it she and Smith were tied at 8 under.
Davies, too, made a mess of things early and never recovered. A triple bogey at the 4th hole by the defending champion and her tournament was all but over.
Smith went ahead when she birdied the 4th hole but to her credit, given the disasters that had befallen her, Sergas was able to steady the ship with a birdie of her own at the 5th hole. By the turn, Smith had moved two clear courtesy of further birdies at the 7th and 8th and when Sergas bogeyed the 10th the Australian was three clear.
Smith birdied again at the 11th and what was appearing to be an already unassailable lead became even more so. She provided perhaps glimmer of hope for her chasers when she bogeyed the 13th but the young lady who continues to grow in stature knuckled down over the closing few holes.
A birdie at the last made it official, winning by three and securing her third international title in the last 13 months. Smith had also won the Royal Canberra Ladies Classic and an event on the Futures Tour in the US during that period. This however is a quantum leap.
“My goal was to win on the LET this year and it is nice to have done it early,” said Smith.
“It was always going to be a tough day (with the wind) from the first tee. I thought if I could shoot par or around that it was going to be a good score today. But to see my name with a two-shot lead after the turn was pretty cool.
“I just told myself to play smart on the back nine, it’s a tough back nine and people were going to drop shots. I wanted to hit fairways and greens, two-putt and get out of there and that’s what I did. I’m over the moon – I knew I could do it.”
The last 24 hours must seem like a nightmare for Gulius. At one stage late in her round on Saturday she led by eight shots but dropped shots at the 17th and 18th and the penalty for slow play saw her lead reduced very quickly to just four.
Then came the disastrous start today but the 31 year old can walk away with her head held high as she could easily have folded completely over the final stages of the tournament. Instead she dug in and eventually shared second with the talented Joh.
To have led this event for so long (she was behind only briefly on day two) and to lose it in the manner she did today will be disappointing and may take time to get over but she nevertheless displayed a lot of character.
Joh is a two time winner of the US Public Links Championship and now has partial status on the USLPGA Tour courtesy of her 8th place on the Futures Tour money list in 2010.
Once again the 13 year old Auckland golfer, Lydia Ko was the leading amateur when finishing in a share of 4th position with Melissa Reid. It completed a marvellous summer of golf for Ko, having finished runner-up at the NSW Open and 12th at the Australian Women’s Open.
The title however goes to Kristie Smith, one of the most exciting prospects in Australian Women’s golf for some time. She has already made significant strides in her two year professional career and this victory is yet another step towards what appears to be a very successful career in tournament golf.