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IRISH LADIES OPEN
ESTERL IN CONTROL AT FAITHLEGG



Germany's Elisabeth Esterl takes the early lead on six under par halfway through day one of the 100,000 Waterford Crystal Ladies Irish Open at Faithlegg GC.

The 25-year-old from Dingolfing fired seven birdies and one bogey for her 66 to lead by two shots over Spain's Raquel Carriedo, Australian Karen Lunn, and France's Virginie Auffret.

Defending champion Sophie Gustafson from Sweden is a shot further back after
carding a faultless 69, tied with compatriot Mia Lojdahl, South African Laurette Maritz and last year's runner up Marine Monnet from France.

Esterl, who has yet to win on Tour began the day in blistering fashion with a trio of red figures from the opening hole. Thoughts of matching the Tour record of seven straight consecutive birdies, equalled by South African Laurette Maritz in Thursday's Pro-Am, entered the German's head. But at the fourth, she left the 10 foot putt "short and in the jaws."

Despite a bogey at the long par three sixth, Esterl bounced back with a birdie at the 469 yard par five tenth, following it with another hat-trick of birdies from the 14th to move into the lead and post her best round of the year.

"I got off to a great start and just kept it going," said Esterl, whose only professional win came at the Princess Lalla Meriem Cup in 2000.

"I was going for Lolly's record (Laurette Maritz), but I left the putt on the fourth an inch short and in the jaws," she laughed.

"I was having a lot of fun out there with Marine (Monnet) and Nicola (Moult) and that showed off.

"I am looking forward to it. If I keep playing well, I hope it is going to happen. I come out here each week aiming to win, but you can't win in one round, but I have given myself a pretty good chance with that start.

"I was doing everything that I normally do and today, the putts obviously dropped for me."

Carriedo, the European order of merit winner elect, also continued her good form after winning two weeks ago in the Compaq Open.

The 30-year-old from Zaragoza, playing with Gustafson and compatriot Paula
Marti, birdied three of her first five holes to cruise into contention for her third win of the year.

Further birdies on the 11th, hitting a nine iron to 35 feet, and at the 14th, a simple chip and putt for par at the long par five, saw her back into contention as she aims to seal the Order of Merit title up this weekend.

"I went to the range this morning for an hour and a half and was concentrating hard on my game because I have not done any practice recently, so I felt that I needed to," said Carriedo, the only Spaniard to represent Europe in the Solheim Cup.

"I think I found something to work on and think about on the course and my putting was good today also, so that helped - it could have been a bit better, but overall, I am really happy with that score."

And unusually, there have been two holes-in-one today - Scotland's Julie Forbes negotiated the trickiest of the par threes with a "pure" five wood at the 178-yard sixth, and England's Laura Davies sank her eight iron tee shot at the 135-yard ninth hole.

It was the Scot's first hole-in-one in eleven years on Tour, but for Davies, it was her second in her 16-year career.

"I hit a five wood absolutely pure," said Forbes. "It hit the down-slope and just rolled up and in and the first I knew about it was that someone was jumping up and down at the green while the group in front was teeing off!

"It was the quietest hole-in-one ever!"

 
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