La Manga, Spain: Sharmila Nicollet set the greens on fire at La Manga Club in Spain on Sunday, as the Indian shot five-under par on the opening day of the Ladies European Tour’s Final Qualifying School for the 2012 season and led the field along with Chrisje de Vries of the Netherlands on Day One.
Nicollet had seven birdies and two bogeys for an opening 68 on the South Course while De Vries had four birdies, one bogey and an eagle two at the ninth hole in a 66 on the North Course.
England’s Jodi Ewart, Germany’s Stephanie Kirchmayr, Sweden’s Elin Emanuelsson and Spain’s Laura Cabanillas were the next best placed players on three under par.
On two under par were Marjet Van der Graff, Alexandre Vilatte, Mary Mattson, Jessica Yadloczky, Caroline Martens and Eleanor Givens.
Co-leader Nicollet, 20, from south Bangalore, said that she felt confident after shooting her best score in Europe.
“This is my first experience here in Spain and at the qualifiers. The whole of India is behind me. I am the only Indian to qualify so a lot of motivation and pressure got me through,” Nicollet said.
“I love Europe and want to play here so that motivates me to want to play here. I’m in my comfort zone in India so I need to test myself. Playing five under par amongst the top players has boosted my confidence for the last few days. I’m in good form and my game is good so that pretty much sums up my feelings. The weather was perfect and it was the best time to play so I’m loving everything.”
Nicollet said that all parts of her game came together, but she was particularly pleased to have had only 29 putts.
“I’m very comfortable with my driving and putting, but putting was probably my strength today. I holed a lot of medium range putts and started birdie, birdie, birdie, so I was four under after five.”
De Vries was equally pleased after her round, having finished with an eagle at the ninth after holing her second shot with a five-iron from 143 metres.
The 23-year-old from Amsterdam said: “It was a pretty special round actually. I started off okay with a bogey on 11 but then made a birdie on 15 and 16 and in between made pars and a few up and downs. From that point I started putting better and my caddie was making good decisions about the clubs and the wind, which was a bit tricky, I thought. I had a birdie on the third and then kept working at shots. I made a birdie on eight and nine was a nice finish. I just brought it in from the right with the wind.”
De Vries held limited membership of the LET in category 11a in 2011 and played in only three tournaments, in Holland, Morocco and Sicily, where she missed the cut in each of them. However, she also played on the LET Access Series with a season best finish of sixth at the LETAS Ladies Open in Hazlemere and feels that every competitive experience improving her game.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, Cabanillas, from Malaga, has played on tour for 11 years and has returned to La Manga Club for the second successive year but feels no pressure to retain her playing privileges.
She had three birdies in a round of 68 on the North Course and said: “I think all the shots were fine. I feel very confident with the driver and with the irons. The putts were really good but I lipped out many times and could have had four more birdies.”
Ewart, born in North Allerton in Yorkshire, carded a 70 on the South Course containing two birdies, a bogey and an eagle.
The 24-year-old, who lives in Florida, is an experienced competitor having earned her card for the LPGA in December.
She said: “This will be my fourth time at a Q-School so I’m used to how it works.”
On her round, she added: “I played really solid and only had one bogey so really steady. I eagled the last hole, the 18th, which was nice. I hit a five-iron to ten feet from 165 yards and holed it, so a nice way to finish.”
Kirchmayr also shot 70 on the South Course after carding two birdies, a bogey and an eagle.
The 26-year-old from Nuernberg in Bavaria was pleased with the start to her final qualifying campaign.
“It was a great round. I thought it was quite tough this morning with the wind, but I guess it was not that tough because so many scores are under par.
On her eagle at the par-five 18th, she added: “I took driver and hit a four-iron into the green and made a really good putt from four metres downhill. It was a good round and I didn’t make many mistakes.”
The 90-hole Final Qualifying School is being played over the resort’s two world-class courses, the North and the South, for the first four rounds with a cut to the leading 50 players and ties after 72 holes. The fifth round will be played on the South Course on Thursday and the top 30 players will earn LET Membership in category 8a.