Former European No.1 Gwladys Nocera gave herself a confidence lift when she won her first Ladies European Tour title for five years on Sunday.
The 38-year-old Frenchwoman, whose last tournament victory was at the 2008 Madrid Ladies Masters, took the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open presented by Respect with a four stroke margin of victory over South African Lee-Anne Pace.
“I’m very, very happy and pretty emotional,” said a tearful Nocera after claiming her 11th LET title. “It’s been a while since I lifted a trophy. It was hard again today. I don’t feel like I’m hitting the ball like I should and I don’t feel that I’m hitting the ball well enough, but I tried to stay patient and draw on my experience.”
Although Nocera started the day with a two stroke lead over Pace, the win was anything but simple.
Nocera bogeyed the second hole and was caught in a share of the lead after Pace birdied the difficult par-four sixth.
However, the 32-year-old South African immediately double bogeyed the next hole after taking a penalty drop from a lateral water hazard.
Nocera birdied the eighth to go three strokes clear, but then three-putted the ninth.
Pace was only one stroke behind Nocera after she holed a medium length birdie putt on 10, but Nocera pulled two ahead again with a birdie on 11.
There was a two shot swing on the long, downhill 14th hole, which Pace bogeyed and Nocera birdied, to go four clear with as many holes to play.
Nocera made her putt just before the heavens opened and officials called a suspension due to the threat of lightning in the area.
Although there were sunny skies at the clubhouse, black clouds loomed at the bottom of the valley and loud rumbles could be heard from the storms only five kilometres away.
After a 45 minute delay, the leaders returned to the course and Pace picked up a stroke on 15.
At the par-four 16th, after hitting a poor drive behind a tree, Nocera holed a crucial putt of seven metres to save par, while Pace missed her chance for birdie.
“I made probably the best putt of the week on that hole so it made things easier for the last two holes. I knew it was going to be tricky,” Nocera said.
Nocera then sealed a final round of 70 with a chip and tap-in birdie putt on 18 to end nine-under-par after four rounds before being sprayed in champagne by her French colleagues, including Jade Schaeffer, Caroline Afonso, Alexandra Villatte, Julie Greciet and Marion Ricordeau.
Pace also felt that hole was the decider and added: “16 was my last chance realistically. Of course I’m disappointed but Gwladys played well and the truth is, I just didn’t play well enough.
“The putts just didn’t drop. I left a few short and I think the rain also slowed them down a little bit. I couldn’t get them into the hole. A lot were on line and just short. I hit it really good, some good shots, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the year.”
Australian rookie Whitney Hillier recorded a career-best finish of solo third place after making an eagle on the par-five 18th.
The 22-year-old from Perth said: “I had a nice drive on the 18th, a nice 5-wood, it hit the slope and ran up to about five feet. I was like, ‘I’m going to hole this,’ and I did. I was pushing for third place and I did it, so I was quite happy about that.
“Hopefully I’ll get into the (Ricoh Women’s British) Open now. That was my only incentive for the week, really. If I make the Open I’ll bring my parents over. I was really, really keen for this week.”
|Liz Young and Lee-Anne Pace
England’s Liz Young had a chance to tie for third but left a short birdie putt just shy of the hole on 17 and then narrowly missed a 12-foot eagle putt on 18.
She tied for fourth on three-under with Sweden’s Mikaela Parmlid, while Finnish rookie Noora Tamminen recorded a career best finish of sixth, a stroke further behind.
First-round co-leader Nikki Campbell of Australia ended seventh alongside Klara Spilkova of the Czech Republic and England’s Hannah Burke.
England’s Trish Johnson and Denmark’s Malene Jorgensen both earned Solheim Cup points for ending in a share of 10th spot, however, England’s Laura Davies once again just missed out, by tying for 12th place.
England’s Charley Hull finally ended her run of five straight second places with a tie for 40th position and slipped back from first to third place on the ISPS Handa Order of Merit, behind Nocera and Pace.
The next LET event is the Open de España Femenino “Madrid 2020”, taking place at Club de Campo Villa de Madrid, on July 18-21.