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Skarpnord sets pace in Morocco
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Marianne Skarpnord on day one at the Lalla Meryem Cup
South African rookie Melissa Eaton: one shot off the pace

Marianne Skarpnord made a perfect start at the Lalla Meryem Cup in Agadir on Thursday as she carded a five under par 66 at a blustery Golf de l‘Océan.

The Norwegian, a joint runner-up at the same venue last year, fired a five under par 66 in breezy conditions to end the day a stroke clear of South African rookie Melissa Eaton.

Although the course was bathed in sunshine, a fierce breeze was blowing in from the western coast making conditions tougher than expected.

“It’s so windy today. Yesterday was so nice,” said Skarpnord, 27, who was amongst the early starters. “I feel the score was fairly good. I played well today and my putter was working until I reached the 15th. I three putted there but besides that I played nicely.”

The two-time Ladies European Tour winner carded four birdies on the front nine and picked up two more shots at 11 and 13 before dropping her only shot of the day on the 15th.

While she was tearing up the course at Golf de l’Océan, her boyfriend Richard Green carded a 75 in the Trophée Hassan II being played on the nearby Golf du Palais Royal.  

Meanwhile, Eaton was five under with three to play but bogeyed the par-3 16th. She is riding a wave of confidence having collected her maiden title as a professional at Florida’s Natural Charity Classic on the Symetra Tour in the United States last week.

The 28-year-old, originally from Port Shepstone, said: “I just hit it really, really solidly today and hit a lot of greens which helped me because I had to make some pars and let the birdies happen. I made one bogey today so I’m happy about that in these conditions.

“On the one hole I miss hit a wedge shot and then I ended up holing a chip shot. On another hole I actually hit into the hazard with my ball in between some rocks and ended up on a nice fluffy piece of grass, so I got away with that one too. Overall it was just a really fun experience. It’s my first event out on the Ladies European Tour so I’m excited to be here and to play solid my first round.”

Next best on three under was young Briton Charley Hull, 17, who made a blistering start with four birdies in her first six holes. However she came back in one over after bogey on the 12th.

Although Hull played a warm-up event on the LET Access Series in France last week, this is her first start on the LET since turning professional in December.

She said: “It feels good. I played in quite a few events as an amateur last year but I was a little bit nervous, but I just went out there and played. I said to my dad at the beginning of the round, I’d be happy with four under but three under is not bad because it was very windy out there.”

Impressive Thai rookie Ariya Jutanugarn, also 17, was a shot back in a group of four players on two under par alongside English trio Melissa Reid, Sophie Walker and rookie Holly Clyburn, another of the 38 rookies in the tournament.

Of that group, only Reid and Curtis Cup star Clyburn played in the afternoon, when winds dropped slightly, but Clyburn said it was a tricky, swirling breeze.

“I didn’t expect it to be this windy,” she said. “I was just expecting to enjoy it as this is my LET debut and I played really nicely. There are some big names out there so at the start of the day I would have taken two under in these conditions.

“I didn’t hole enough putts. I stuck it close but didn’t get it past the hole. I hit it well off the tee and my iron play was good. I missed a few greens but that didn’t matter. Tomorrow I’m off early so I might get the better of the greens. I’ll just go out there and enjoy it.”

A group of seven players is a shot further back on one under par, including Scottish amateur Kelsey McDonald and American rookies Mallory Fraiche and Katie Burnett.

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