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Ex-footballer shoots ‘best ever’ round of 66 to share Aramco Saudi Ladies International lead

RIYADH: England’s Georgia Hall held on to a share of the lead at the halfway point of the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by Public Investment Fund after a second consecutive 69 on the Red Sea coast.

The former British Open champion made the most of her early morning tee time to bag a trio of birdies en route to a day two three-under-par, earned in far calmer weather than the day before.

Ferocious 40 kmh winds had brought havoc to afternoon scoring at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club on Thursday, making for conditions Hall described as “the hardest” she had ever played in.

A thoroughly controlled Friday round — blotted only by a single bogey — ensured the 25-year-old’s six-under-par total would be the score to beat heading into the weekend, as the Jeddah course’s infamous bluster returned to challenge the day’s later tee times.

“The pins were a little trickier actually than yesterday,” said Hall, the world No. 25. “Yesterday had excessive wind.  Obviously, it was pretty much nothing this morning, but it’s kind of up a little bit now.”

Asked how she felt to be holding the lead despite having to endure what is sure to be the worst conditions of the week on Thursday, she said: “It gives me a lot of confidence. That’s what happens with golf, I think. Sometimes you get a good draw, a bad draw, and that’s what happens. You’ve got to accept it, which I did.

“On the weekend, whoever is close to my score will be near my tee time, so we all have it roughly the same. I don’t mind playing in the wind, so we’ll just see what happens.”

Sharing that tee time will be LET rookie Kristyna Napoleaova of the Czech Republic, who only took up golf five years ago after succumbing to an injury that cut short a highly decorated football career.

The 25-year-old played for the Czech national team and was also a star player for league side Sparta Prague, winning the Czech Championship six times in a row.

Now, after a tournament low round of 66, Napoleaova shares the midway lead in what is only her second event as an LET professional, and will play in Saturday’s final group alongside Hall and the tour’s longest driver, Anne van Dam, of the Netherlands.

Napoleaova said: “It was a really good round. Even yesterday I felt like the course was really running well and the greens were pure, so I feel like this is exactly suited to me, apart from the wind. This morning when we came out to the tee, it was blowing all over the place, so I thought: ‘Lovely, let’s enjoy it as much as we can.’

“I was really pretty much chilling out all the round and not thinking about anything. Once or twice I looked at the leaderboard, which wasn’t a good idea. But apart from that, it was pretty much good.”

She added: “With soccer I was doing quite well, playing for the national team and everything. Then the injuries came. My parents pretty much forced me to start playing golf because my mum didn’t want to start alone. Somehow, I started doing quite well, so I thought: ‘Why not give it a try?’.

“Now here we are. Not even six years and I’m glad I made the decision, but don’t tell my mum.”

Anne van Dam sits two strokes back from the leading pair after carding her own 69, following on from an opening-day one-under 71.

“It’s probably one of the best three-unders of my career,” said the big hitter. “Not one shot was easy out there. Normally you think into the wind is tough, but downwind was almost tougher to keep the balls close. Overall, I’m very pleased. I hit a lot of good shots and actually created some good chances and holed a few good par putts.”

Twenty-one-year-old Australian star Steph Kyriacou, like Napoleaova, also carded a tournament low six-under-par 66, putting herself firmly in the mix for the weekend.

“I hit good shots yesterday, but they would finish like 30 meters away from the pin,” the two-time LET winner replied when asked about her experience in the opening round.

“I hit good shots today. Because there wasn’t much wind, I could actually hit them close and give myself chances.” 

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