They slipped from her rain-soaked hands for a while, but Meghan MacLaren has regained the reins of the Australian Women’s Classic with one round to play.
After rain at Bonville Golf Resort delayed the second round by almost 24 hours – and shortened the tournament to 54 holes – MacLaren immediately lost her bogey-free status and the lead with two three-putts after resuming on the 11th green.
But the dual New South Wales Open winner regained her composure after a key birdie on the 15th to sign for a 70 and a one-shot lead at seven under as the chasing field bunched after 36 holes.
Spanish veteran Carmen Alonso frustrated herself when she took bogey on the long seventh (her second last hole), but clung on to finish six under in second place.
Behind her, 2020 South African Open winner Alice Hewson narrowly missed eagle on the last to reach five under, while the field’s highest ranked player, Sweden’s Maja Stark, also closed strongly to be four under, alongside Argentina’s Magdalena Simmermacher.
Rising Queenslander Sarah Hammett will also feature in the final two pairings after a stellar bogey-free 70 that left her as both leading Australian and amateur at three under.
But they all have to chase McLaren who was happy to have steadied after resuming with a treacherous downhill putt that she feared would be slower because of the rain.
“It was a tough place to restart. You could probably tell I was having troubled trusting the pace of the greens – when they’ve had so much water on them, it’s hard to get that feel straight away and I paid the price a couple of times,” she said.
“You can warm up on the practice green, but it’s never quite the same as on the course.”
But a birdie putt on the 15th that fell in on the right edge on its last roll proved the tonic.
“It was important, especially on reflection. I’d had a few things happen on the holes before that didn’t go the way I saw them, so to have that fall in just felt good and gave me a positive thought for those final few holes, where I felt much better.
“I don’t even know what day it is right now, but it’s good to have held it together. I was really happy on Thursday and Friday not to have any bogeys, but when I had those couple today, I was also happy not to compound them and finish off well.”
Stark, 22, already has chalked up three wins having only turned professional last year – including two on the Ladies European Tour – and caught the eye with birdies on the 15th and 18th to make her move.
“(On Friday) I knew the weather was going to be bad, so I knew it was going to be damage control,” Stark said.
“It was a very steady round with one bogey and three birdies. I wasn’t really close to a bogey at any other time, so I was really happy about my game (and) I’m hitting the ball well.”
Englishwoman Hewson, similarly, seems to be building nicely having hit 17 of 18 greens in the disjointed second round.
“Heading into this week we expected there to be some kind of disruption. I was impressed we got out there at all today. Great job to all the greenkeepers out here at Bonville for making the course playable,” Hewson said.
“But I took the delay in my stride, I was here early for the 7am restart and then we had a (couple of delays) … so I took a nap and tried to reset my day and start again from scratch, so I’m happy with how I handled it.
“I’m trending in a direction that I’m really happy with. I’m hitting a lot of greens and a lot of fairways, if a couple of putts start to drop, we could get some low scores going.”
The third and final round will be played tomorrow from 8.15am with the final group out at 10.15am.