The venerable links of Royal Porthcawl has a reputation of being one of the hardest seaside venues in the UK, but with glorious, unbroken sunshine and the absence of wind, Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson tamed the sleeping lion with a faultless six under par 67 in the first round of the £400,000 WPGA Championship of Europe.
Alfie, as she is affectionately known on Tour, leads a group of five players on three under par, including two Norwegians Suzann Pettersen, winner of the Ladies French Open in June, and Cecilie Lundgreen.
South African Laurette Maritz, Australian Corinne Dibnah and France’s Karine Icher make up the quintet with 11 players tightly bunched on two under.
Alfredsson, whose best finish this year was a tie for ninth in the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, played faultless golf around a course that many players have said is the toughest on Tour.
In perfect scoring conditions, the 36-year-old from Gothenburg demonstrated her class on the South Wales coastline. Birdies at the fifth and sixth saw her turn in 34 and with four more on the back nine, starting at the 161-yard par three 11th, hitting a seven iron to five feet.
More followed at the 12th, 15th and 16th and the Solheim Cup star was delighted with her game, especially since she hasn’t won in Europe since the 1998 Evian Masters.
“I have been playing a lot better recently, but my putter hasn’t been as hot though. The improvement is there and right now, I feel like I am relaxed and trying to enjoy my golf again,” said Alfredsson.
“It’s a really tough course and we couldn’t have easier conditions than we had today. It’s so beautiful and I miss this in the states. Their golf courses are pretty, but this is so natural here, it’s great, and you have to think a lot around here. “It’s fun when you play well and it is a treat to be here and that was the most fun I have had playing for a while,” she added.
Pettersen, looking for her second win of the year, was pleased with the way she managed her round today. The 20-year-old from Oslo began in shaky fashion with two bogies. But last years World Amateur champion responded with some good course management as she carved out her 70.
A birdie at the tricky par four ninth opened up the floodgates, with more red figures following at the tenth, 12th, 14th and 17th. Just one bogey on the 13th spoiled an otherwise flawless fightback.
“I didn’t have the best feeling as I started out,” said Pettersen. “But as I played, I found my rhythm. “My iron shots could have been much better as I was finding the fairways alright and my putting was rock solid, I didn’t miss anything within six feet all day.”
Compatriot Lundgreen rued many a missed birdie chance in her round, but the 29-year-old from Sarpsborg made light of that fact.
“I missed all my birdie chances, but I made all the ones for eagle,” she quipped.
A sole birdie at the fifth hole set her off into red figures, and with an eagle at the 444-yard par five eighth, the tall blonde turned in 33. Despite a bogey at the tenth, missing from just three feet, Lundgreen added another eagle at the 12th with a drive and six iron to ten feet enough to tame the 436-yard par five.
But another missed short putt at the 15th dropped her back to three under par.
“Overall, I played some good shots and didn’t miss many greens at all. There were no real bad shots and this course seems to suit me, even though I have never really liked links golf.
“It’s great preparation for the British Open and I am looking forward to a great week and hopefully finish high this week.”
Maritz made her best start of the year with an eagle and a birdie on the opening nine to turn in three under par and threaten her pal Lundgreen close to the top of the leaderboard.
Three bogies cancelled out her trio of birdies on the back nine for her 70, but she made sure that the Norwegian knew about her score.
The 37-year-old from Johannesburg had been goaded by Lundgreen to try and chase her up the leaderboard, to which Maritz replied, ‘Don’t worry, I’m chasing you, red numbers are my favourite.’
“Cecilie and I have a great banter,” said Maritz. “She is a great golfer and if I can keep playing as steadily as today, I hope to get my favourite colour going!”
“I played nice and steady and hit the ball where I wanted to and only the three putt on the 16th kept me out of second spot alone.”
Icher, who finished in third place in the French Open, was happy with her score, but knew that she could be playing a different course if the weather changes.
The 22-year-old from Châteauroux drained seven birdies in her round and was happy with her form on a type of course she finds “funny”.
“Today, there was no wind,” explained the qualifying school winner. “Tomorrow, this could be a completely different kind of course. I think it is a very funny kind of golf and the main thing is to accept that you are going to make bogeys if you are to make birdies.
“A little wind would make a difference and it could be a different course over each of the four rounds.”
And finally, two unusual events, both from Swedes. Helsingborg’s Malin Burstrom had an ace at the 161-yard 11th hole, and English based Sofia Grönberg Whitmore had an eagle two after holing her second shot into the first hole, a tricky opening hole she tamed with a wedge.