amateur golf
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LADIES IRISH OPEN:
ESTERL AHEAD, BUT THE FIELD ARE CLOSING IN AT FAITHLEGG

 


Germany's Elisabeth Esterl fired a five under par 67 in the second round of the 100,000 Waterford Crystal Ladies Irish Open to lead by one shot heading into the final round at Faithlegg GC.

The 25-year-old from Dingolfing leads two Spaniards, Ana Belen Sanchez, who
backed up her first round 66 with a five under par 67, and Order of Merit
winner elect Raquel Carriedo, who blistered her way around the back nine in
seven under par to post a six under 66.

Two shots further back are England's Trish Johnson, carding five birdies and one bogey in her second consecutive 68, and defending champion, Sweden's Sophie Gustafson, going one better with a 67.

But lurking on seven under is England's Laura Davies, twice a winner of the Irish Open, but without a win in Europe since the 1999 Compaq Open. Joining her is last year's runner up Marine Monnet of France and first round co-leader Karen Lunn of Australia.

Esterl, looking for her maiden win in five years on Tour, made headway with a birdie on the par five second, but bogeyed the 178-yard par three sixth.

Back to back birdies at the eighth and ninth took her within striking distance of Sanchez, who posted 10 under earlier in the day. And with a further birdie at the par five tenth and an eagle at the 459-yard 13th, hitting a seven wood to five feet, she cruised back to the top of the leaderboard.

"I thought that was pretty good," said Esterl, whose only professional victory came in the Princess Lalla Meriem Cup last year in Rabat.

"I got off to a slow start, but then I settled down into my rhythm and got it going a bit. I made my usual bogey on the sixth, but then it got a bit better.

"If I play like that tomorrow, and it's my day, then great. If not, there is always next week.

"I think another five under should do it, that would be nice, I would sit in the clubhouse and take that right now."

Sanchez was understandably nervous at the start and the three-putt bogey at
the first, showed it. A birdie at the next saw her get into the groove and after turning in level par 34, the 25-year-old from Malaga turned up the gas.

Birdies at the 10th, hitting three wood into the par five and two putting from 30 feet, the 11th, almost holing her wedge from 80 yards, and the 13th, a solid up and down from the greenside trap, saw her make a break from the chasing pack.
And with a spectacular approach to the final hole, she took the lead, albeit
temporarily.

"I was a little nervous starting out," said Sanchez.

"It is the first time I have held the lead in a big tournament, but the bogey at the first seemed to settle me down a bit. I am very happy with that score, I played every shot as it come and listened to my caddy (Matt Wilcox) all day.

"Tomorrow, I am planning on doing the same again, it would be great fun to
become the third Spanish winner this year."

Carriedo was seemingly out of the running for her third title of the year with an outward half of one over par 35. But the 30-year-old from Zaragoza made light work of the back nine, carding five birdies and an eagle at the 438-yard 14th to come home in 31, seven under.

The winner of the Compaq and Taiwan Opens this season flew up the leaderboard and effectively sealed the Order of Merit title in the process, providing she finishes the final round unscathed.

"The back nine was unbelievable, I missed a short putt for eagle at the 13th, then went and rolled it in from 45 feet at the next!" said the Solheim Cup star.

"Actually, I didn't play very good on the front nine at all, I was not very confident and then suddenly on the back nine, I found my game, everything was going in!

"It's nice to wrap up the order of merit this weekend, especially in front of my boyfriend and I am really looking forward to finishing well tomorrow."

Gustafson rattled off an eagle, four birdies and a bogey in her 67 and knew she would need much of the same on Sunday to successfully defend her title.

"I missed a lot of putts out there today," said the 27-year-old from Saro.

"I am keen to defend my title, I've always liked this place and I reckon it will take another five under par tomorrow to win. I am just going to go out and try not to make any mistakes and then I should be OK. If I get off to a fast start, that would give me a chance."

Johnson was pleased with her consistency over the last two days and despite
having a torrid time with injury this season, the 35-year-old from Bristol was happy to be in contention again.

"The game's pretty solid from tee to green, a second 68, I'm happy with that. Just like yesterday, pretty solid, but I missed a fair few putts today, but I didn't let it affect me."

Playing with Davies, Johnson didn't do the customary thing and wish her
Solheim Cup partner well for the final round.

"That never works," said Johnson. "It's funny, we were saying to each other, the amount of times we play together on Sunday in the last round, we always wish each other the best of luck, have a good game and stuff like that.

"The last time we said that was at the British Open at Sunningdale and it ended up crap - the pair of us!

"We were talking about that today, so as we were walking up fifteen, I said to Laura that I am going to wish her an awful round tomorrow instead - have an absolutely hideous day - then we'll see what happens," she laughed.

Davies was also in a chipper mood as she made her move on Saturday. The
38-year-old from West Byfleet carded seven birdies and two bogeys for her 67
and was happy that her confidence was restored.

"I played well and I am beginning to hole some putts and I am no longer getting bitter and twisted about missing them," said Davies.

"A win in Europe is high on the list of my priorities and I am still hopeful of a pick in next year's Solheim Cup team.

"Earlier in the year, I was close to quitting, but now that I changed the shafts in my irons and that I am hitting the driver well, I am standing over the ball and hitting it with full confidence.

"It's lovely to play like this, I have been looking forward to it for a while. There were about ten tournaments where I was standing over the ball and dreading it.

"The US Open was the low point, I was with Karrie (Webb) and Juli Inkster and just playing like a fool, it was really embarrassing."

Sixty three professionals and one amateur, Rebecca Coakley from Australia,
made the cut, which fell at four over par.

Whoever wins the 15,000 first prize, be it a first time winner, or one of the more established names, we are in for an exciting finish again at Faithlegg.


 
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