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The 30th Bahrain Ladies Open Golf Championship was hosted at Awali Golf Club last weekend, with 32 players from Bahrain and overseas locations in the field, including last year’s champion Fiona Elsdon, as well as Sarah Hobday and Lynn St. Lawrence, champions in 2016 and 2015 respectively.
With the organising committee kicking-off preparation activities more than six months ago, the event got under way on Thursday with player registration and a welcome reception.
Day 1’s play started in a blustery north-westerly wind and a light rain shower, the gloomy skies gradually brightening during the day but with winds remaining around 20 knots.
After the first nine holes, Jo Pawson and Dena Wales led the field, both on gross 44, with Stacey Thomas chasing them with 45. Elsdon, seen as the bookies’ favourite to repeat her 2017 podium position, followed in a group with 46, along with St. Lawrence, Hobday and Nicola Bailey.
Completion of the back nine resulted in a re-arrangement of the leader board, Thomas edging ahead with a gross 46 to total 91 for the day, one ahead of five joint-second-place players: Elsdon (46/46), St. Lawrence (46/46), Wales (44/48), Susan Scott (47/45) and Ariette Paul (47/45).
Thomas’s play was also noteworthy in that she carded two of only three birdies over the whole day, Paul achieving the third. Rounding off the Top 10 placings at the end of Day 1, a further four players looked as though they were still in with a chance, being within five shots of the leader, namely Nicola Park (95), Sarah Hobday (96), Johanna Hassett (96) and Kerry Diaper (96).
Clear blue skies greeted Day 2 play together with a slightly reduced wind speed. Teeing-off last, the two leading groups comprised Scott, Wales and Paul, with the final grouping of Elsdon, St. Lawrence and Thomas.
Both with 95 for the second day, Scott (48/47) and St. Lawrence (49/46) slipped from contention, as did Wales with 98 (51/47). Overnight leader Thomas started her round shakily with bogey, double bogey, double bogey and finished her front nine with gross 50. Although carding a respectable 46 for her back nine to total 96 for the day, she slid down the leader board and waved her overnight lead goodbye.
Paul, in the second-to-last group, commenced her Day 2 play steady, but then managed a quadruple bogey 9 stumble on Hole-5, luckily to regain her composure with a birdie-4 on the par-5 Hole-7, helping her to a front-nine score of 46 and a tally of 138 over 27 holes.
With a birdie on the par-4 11th together with pars on Holes 12, 14, 15 and 17, the back nine saw Paul engage cruise control and great play to achieve the Championship’s best nine-hole score with a gross 41, finishing the round with gross 87 and a competition total of 179, placing her at the top of the leader board.
Elsdon commenced her Day 2 without major hiccup, a birdie-4 on Hole 7 helping her to a front-nine score of 42 and a tally of 134 over 27 holes. Elsdon’s back nine started bogey, par, birdie to keep her on track, but a triple bogey on Hole 13 and a double bogey on Hole 15 saw her safe position evaporate. As Elsdon commenced her play at Hole 17, she needed to putt out over the last two holes in eleven shots or better so as to win.
A bogey-6 on Hole 17 meant she still had a chance, but the par-5 she needed on the 18th proved elusive, her score of 6 being one too many. The upshot: a nineteenth hole playoff to decide the Championship, starring Ariette Paul and Fiona Elsdon.
After the formalities of posting scores, the two leaders, caddies and equipment were chauffeured back to 18th tee, this location being chosen so that the players can have the pleasure of being watched by the assembled crowd at the clubhouse yet again.
Bathed in orange as the sun started to set, the battle commenced with Paul drawing the short straw to tee off first. And, a very confident tee shot it was: almost up to the fairway bunker.
The more diminutive Elsdon remained calm, also to place her tee shot nicely in the middle of the fairway, but 50 yards short of Paul’s monster.
Elsdon played her second, not quite reaching the road and slightly to the right of centre, leaving a distance of about 80 yards to the green. Paul, for her second, made another solid connection, across the road but not straight: the ball ending in the left rough at 50 yards - cueing up a difficult third shot up to the green, the lie having a somewhat restricted back swing courtesy of an adjacent shrub. Elsdon played her third competently up toward the green, but a couple of yards short of the putting surface. A good chip and a putt would see her down in par. The commotion on the terrace became a hush.
A final word from Paul’s caddy Floris Brand and he stepped back. With a descending blow with her iron, Paul lifted the ball sweetly into the air, it striking near the top of the bank. It rolled and rolled some more.
The terrace commotion returned and got louder and louder, and became a roar as the ball cruised to a halt one foot from the pin. With what was probably the shot of the Championship, Paul had a sure-fire birdie.
To force a second play-off, Elsdon now had to produce a chip-in from off the green. A tall order that was not to be, the ball rolling past the hole by a few metres and needing a two-putt for her to finish with a 6. Paul stepped forward, and with a simple tap-in, her worthy birdie won her the Championship.
Club Captain Paul Anderson was master-of-ceremonies for the presentation, starting with thanks to the sponsors, organising committee, roving photographer and other helpers.
He then presented the prizes, assisted by tournament director Mark Hodgkinson.
By popular demand, Paul took the microphone and thanked everyone that had made the event so enjoyable, gave special thanks to her caddy, and finished by summarising her day with: “I wasn’t prepared for this!”
30th Bahrain Ladies Open Champion: Ariette Paul (gross 139 - 92/87, won on 19th hole play-off), 2nd Fiona Elsdon (139 - 92/87), 3rd Lynn St Lawrence (187 - 92/95), 4th Susan Scott (187 - 92/95), 5th Stacey Thomas (188 - 91/97), 6th Dena Wales (190 - 92/98), 7th Jo Pawson (192 - 101/91), 8th Nicki Bailey (192 - 98/94), 9th Nicki Park (192 - 95/97). Best nett overall: Dena Wales (152 - 73/79), best nett Day-1 Johanna Hassett (75), best nett Day-2 Diane Loney (71).