Cape Town - Lejan Lewthwaite is bidding to become the first player in four years to win back-to-back Sunshine Ladies Tour events after carding an opening six-under-par 66 to lead the Dimension Data Ladies Pro-Am in George.
The Serengeti golfer, who won the SuperSport Ladies Challenge presented by Sun International at Sun City last week, has the chance to match Lee-Anne Pace and Bertine Faber, who recorded the last successive victories in 2016.
Lewthwaite signed for a flawless 66 at the George Golf Club to take pole position in the R600 000 event and grabbed a share of the lead in the R100 000 Ladies Pro-Am, backed by Cisco Systems, with amateur partner Marj Davidson.
The dynamic duo set the early target on six-under in the Betterball competition, which was match Hartebeespoort's Lindi Coetzee and amateur Missy Hughes.
"We had such a great time out there, even when we both struggled at times and the putts just didn't want to drop," said Lewthwaite. "I really enjoy this format. We are both out there trying to put the best score together that we can, that you can manage, but there is a lot of banter and high fives and laughter, so you tend to stay pretty relaxed. It's very different to competing in a straight stroke play event and it makes for a really nice change of pace."
Lewthwaite leads by four from former champion Stacy Bregman, who carded four birdies and two bogeys in an up and down round 70.
American Jordy LaBarbera, former SA Women's Masters champion Maria Beautell from Spain and Coetzee finished a further stroke adrift, while Cape Town Ladies Open champion Lee-Anne Pace and young gun Kelsey Nicholas share sixth on level par.
LaBarbera from Texas and Madelein de Wet tied for third on five-under with Lauren Taylor from England and amateur Mimi Franklin.
Rookie Tara Griebenow and Joanne Shields posted four-under late in the afternoon to force a three-way tie for fifth with Pace and Sharon Lee and India's Sharmilla Nicollet and her partner Nicci Taylor.
Lewthwaite got off to a birdie start on the par four 10th and picked up her second gain on the short 15th to turn two-under. It was on inward loop where the magic started to happen.
"To be honest, I really wasn't hitting the ball well over the first 12 holes or so, but everything just kind of clicked into gear on the back nine," said the Investec-backed golfer, who followed a birdie at the par five second with three more on the bounce from the sixth.
"I just holed a lot of putts today and that kept the momentum going. I missed a few fairways, but the short game was spot on. All my birdie putts were in the 15 to 20 foot range and all my chips landed within three to four feet."
Lewthwaite entered the winners' circle for the first time after beating amateur Kajal Mistry in a one-hole play-off at the South African Women's Masters at San Lameer Country Club last year. And it took another extra hole to win at the Gary Player Country Club after she tied former South African Women's Open champion Tandi McCallum for the lead in regulation play.
Retaining her Ladies European Tour card for the 2020 season, winning at Sun City and signing a sponsorship deal with TaylorMade South Africa has Lewthwaite oozing with confidence.
"It's been an incredible start to the season and I am very careful not to let the stuff off the course influence me on the course. It's easy to get caught up and lose focus, so I am sticking to the basics so I can hit the shots I need to hit."
Lewthwaite said the Dimension Data Pro-Am and the Investec South African Women's Open has been on her mind since the season launched in Cape Town a fortnight ago.
"I lost by two shots to Nobuhle (Dlamini) last year, so you can bet your bottom dollar that I want to hit a winning putt at the Outeniqua Course on Sunday," she said. "The Dimension Data Ladies Pro-Am is one of the most popular events on the circuit. We play for big money and winning would give me a huge leg-up in the Investec Order of Merit.
"My game is also taking shape and building the kind of form I want to take to Westlake and then on to the Ladies European Tour. I'm in a good head-space right now and I just want to keep on improving."
First Round Scores
66 - Lejan Lewthwaite
70 - Stacy Bregman
71 - Jordy LaBarbera (USA), Lindi Coetzee, Maria Beautell (ESP)
72 - Lee-Anne Pace, Kelsey Nicholas
73 - Emie Peronnin (FRA), Monique Smit, Casandra Hall, Tara Griebenow, Anais Meyssonnier (FRA)
74 - Nobuhle Dlamini (SWZ), Lauren Taylor (ENG), Bianca Lohbauer (a)
75 - Bertine Faber, Zethu Myeki, Jane Turner (SCO), Sharmila Nicollet (IND), Sophie Lamb (ENG)
76 - Anne-Lise Caudal (FRA), Brittney-Fay Berger, Caroline Rominger (SUI), Michaela Fletcher
77 - Tandi McCallum, Kim Williams, Lora Assad, Bonita Bredenhann (NAM), Ivanna Samu, Woo-Ju Son (KOR), Leticia Ras-Anderica (GER), Lara Weinstein
78 - Nicole Garcia, Clara Pietri (SUI), Shawnelle de Lange, Hannah Arnold (USA), Rachel Drummond (ENG), Kyle Roig (PUR)
79 - Rosie Davies (ENG), Cara Gorlei, Jessica Dreesbeimdieke (NAM), Flora Peuch (FRA), Christina Gloor (SUI)
80 - Julie Berton (FRA), Francesca Cuturi, Lynette Fourie, Pasqualle Coffa (NED), Catherine Lau
81 - Tijana Kraljevic
82 - Cassidy Williams, Bianca Wernich (a), Siviwe Duma
83 - Marion Duvernay (FRA), Michelle Leigh
85 - Chiara Contomathios, Lauren Blease (ENG), Michelle de Vries
86 - Carey Dodds (a), Yolanda Duma
87 - Luzelle Booyens