Red-hot rookie Reno a dark horse to clinch SA Women’s Open title at San Lameer

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Paula Reto will make a popular pro debut on home soil at the Cell C South African Women’s Open at San Lameer next month after capping a brilliant weekend for South African women’s golf with a superb performance at the Yokohama Tyres LPGA Classic in Alabama on Sunday.

Hot on the heels of Connie Chen’s Spanish Ladies Open triumph on the Ladies European Tour, the LPGA Tour rookie sealed a season-best third place finish in the LPGA event in Prattville on Sunday.

Reto flew under the radar with a string of missed cuts at the start of season, but recently tied for ninth at the Portland Classic.

She underlined her growing status when she claimed the lead at the 36-hole mark of the $1.3-million tournament with rounds of 65 and 66 at the RJT Golf Trail Senator course.

The South African followed with a 70 to hold on for a share of the third round lead with Mi Jung Hur from Korea, but when it mattered most, the short stick went cold.

The 24-year-old fought valiantly to offset four early bogeys with three birdies in the final round and reeled in seven straight pars down the home stretch to claim third on 14-under-par 274 with a closing 73.

She finished seven off the pace from Hur, who claimed a four-stroke victory over Stacy Lewis on 267 with a sizzling 66 in the final round.

Reto said playing alongside Hur was a brilliant learning experience.

“I haven’t been in that situation before in the leading group, so I just was trying to do my own thing and play my own game,” Reto said.

“MJ was just so patient. She was just really good and I learned a lot from her. Next time if I am in the same situation, I would feel better.”

Reto may not have ended the South African title drought on the LPGA Tour, but an $86,469 pay day in her 18th start most definitely took the sting out of the close call.

“I’m most excited that I secured my card for next year,” said Reto, who leapfrogged to 71st on the LPGA Tour Money List.

“It was one of the goals and I’m happy about that. I felt a couple of things were off. Putting didn’t work as well, but I didn’t put pressure on myself, so I’m happy with the outcome.”

Reto relocated to the United States at the age of 15 and her return to South Africa will mark the first time she hunts for glory as a professional on home soil.

The Bloemfontein native, Ladies European Tour champions Chen, Lee-Anne Pace and Ashleigh Simon and a host of Sunshine Ladies Tour campaigners will aim to hold off the challenges of a strong international line-up at San Lameer from 16-19 October.

The 72-hole Cell C South African Women’s Open is co-sanctioned between the WPGA of South Africa and Ladies European Tour and will carry a purse of R4.5-million.

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