Western Australian Kristie Smith scored her maiden win in only her second year on the Ladies European Tour with a three-shot victory in the Pegasus New Zealand Women’s Open at the Pegasus course north of Christchurch.
Starting the final round of the Euro200,000 event tied for third and five shots behind overnight leader, Italy’s Giulia Sergas, Smith was one of few players in the leading groups to cope with the brutal north-easterly wind that raged all afternoon.
With Sergas, who dropped three shots, including a one-stroke time penalty, on the last two holes of her third round coming back to the field with a bogey, bogey, triple-bogey start, Smith was one of 13 golfers within three shots of the lead with 15 holes to play.
She took the outright lead for the first time, moving to 10-under with a birdie on the 61st hole, and she stayed strong both physically and mentally to the end, firing five birdies in the trying conditions with just the one dropped shot at the 67th.
Her four-under 68 – the second-best round of the day – had her 12-under for the tournament, three shots ahead Sergas and American Tiffany Joh, with brilliant 13-year-old New Zealand amateur, Lydia Ko and highly ranked Melissa Reid (England) tied for fifth at seven-under.
Smith, the 22-year-old daughter of veteran Australian professional, Wayne, turned pro in 2008 after winning the Australian amateur championship and the North and South amateur title in the United States.
Her first professional win was the Royal Canberra Classic on the Australian secondary tour after a nine-under 64 in the final round and last year she had her first victory in the United States – the Daytona Beach Invitational on the Futures Tour.
In her rookie year on the LET Tour she played 15 events with her best results being runner-up in the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open and tied fourth in the Deutschebank Ladies Swiss Open. She finished 25th on the Henderson money list with earnings of nearly Euros85,000.
After being pipped on the last hole in last year’s Slovak Open, Smith had as her target this season a win on the European Tour. ``My goal was to win on the LET this year and it is nice to have done it early.
``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.’’
Smith signed off like a true champion on the pasr-5 18th hole. She `smashed’ an 8-iron second to just short of the green and her 7-iron running chip hit the pin and left her a tap-in birdie.
Sergas rallied well after her disastrous start to birdie the last and join 24-year-old Joh in second place – on the same score Laura Davies (England) finished with when winning in 2010. Davies started with a birdie and took the lead at nine-under three holes into the round, but the winner of 77 titles world-wide came to grief at the short par-4 fourth hole. She took an unplayable after her second shot went over the banked green and was short with her fourth, chipping and two-putting for a triple-bogey.
Further disaster awaited at the par-5 ninth when her ball rested near a tree and she snapped her iron trying to promote it. That bogey left her six shots adrift of Smith at the turn and she eventually finished tied for seventh after a 77.