Local favourite Eaton puts herself in SA Women’s Masters title picture at San Lameer

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Port Shepstone pro Melissa Eaton found her rhythm at San Lameer Country Club on Friday to put herself in the title conversation going into Saturday’s final round of the SA Women’s Masters.

Germany’s Laura Fuenfstueck and Lejan Lewthwaite from South Africa will put their friendship aside in Saturday’s showdown.

A well-constructed three-under-par 69 on another windy day boosted Fuenfstueck to the top of the pile at five-under 139.

Lewthwaite was flawless through the front nine and well on her way to join her former Texas State University team-mate after a trio of birdies from the second, but bogeys at five and nine put paid to her challenge.

The Benoni golfer signed for a 69 to finish at two-under and was edged out of the final group by Scottish amateur Gemma Batty and local favourite Eaton.

The 23-year-old Batty carded a two-under 70 to finish two off the pace, while Eaton birdied nine for a 69 to secure the final berth in the marquee group on two under.

Eaton was happy to fly below the radar as she quietly worked her way up the leaderboard with five birdies and two bogeys, but don’t be surprised if the crowd favourite walks in the winning putt at 18 for a second Sunshine Ladies Tour title.

“It was nice to come home and spent time with the family and friends and not to have all the media attention as I had in the past,” she said.

“I played really solid today and if I can keep it going, and the wind shows up again, I could be right up there coming down the 18th on Saturday afternoon.”

Lewthwaite said, “It’s probably a good thing that we [her and Fuenfstueck] won’t be playing together.” Instead, Lewthwaite will tee it up alongside Lora Assad and overnight leader Kim Williams at one-under in the second last group.

“Laura knows I’ll be coming for her, but this way I won’t have to feel bad about it.”

The pair roomed together until the Benoni golfer graduated in 2016 and Fuenfstueck knows her former team mate has the pedigree to go low.

“Lejan was really competitive at college and had a never-say-die attitude,” said the 23-year-old Sunshine Ladies Tour rookie. “I will definitely have a target on my back, because she loves this course. If it wasn’t for those soft bogeys towards the end, she would have been right up there.”

Fuenfstueck said the key to her success was fairways, greens and a hot putter.

“I hit all the fairways and I positioned myself really well into the greens,” she said. “The wind was a major factor. The course is so tight, and you have to keep it in play to score, but I made some great decisions with my club selection and I putted really well.”

Fuenfstueck edged well clear of the field with birdies at six, seven, nine and 10, but bogeys at 15 and 18 let her challengers back in the door.

“The closing holes down the back nine are really challenging and I dropped a couple of shots, but I’m really pleased to be in with a chance. I’ve made every cut and I’ve improved each week. It’s nice to have a chance to play for a win.”

Fuenfstueck travelled to South Africa to gain competitive experience on the Sunshine Ladies Tour before she starts her season on the Ladies European Tour (LET) and LET Access Series.

“I started at the Canon Ladies Tshwane Open and tied for 23rd, and last week I finished 10th in the Dimension Data Ladies Pro-Am. My game has definitely improved and I’m learning so much. It’s a very competitive circuit and we play some really amazing courses.”

Batty was over the moon to find herself in second place after 36 holes.

“I never expected to be at the front of the field; it’s all new experiences for me,” said the Scottish Golf Women’s National Squad player. “I’m just going to play shot-for-shot and enjoy the experience, because it’s a fantastic opportunity. I don’t drive it tremendously far, but I’m pretty straight, so I’m really enjoying this course.”

Batty could become the first amateur to win on the Sunshine Ladies Tour since Ashleigh Buhai (nee Simon) won the South African Women’s Open at Durban Country Club in 2007, but not if Lewthwaite has anything to say about the outcome.

The Benoni golfer won the Amateur title in 2016 with a second place finish and clocked a top 10 finish last year. “I would like to win, yes,” said Lewthwaite. “The first four weeks was a struggle but I’ve turned a corner and I had a great time out there the last two days. If I can birdie the par fives and keep the bogeys off my card in the final round, I can do it.”

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