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LET makes debut in South Africa

The Evian Ladies European Tour (LET) makes it's long-awaited African debut Friday when an International field of 120 players tees off at the Sun City Resort for the Nedbank Mastercard SA Ladies Masters.

The £100,000 tournament will be played at the Gary Player Country Club and features professionals from 22 countries. It represents the fourth stop of the new-look 2001 Evian Tour, and follows on directly from back-to-back events in Australia and last week's Taiwan Ladies Open, where the Tour enjoyed its first visit to Asia.

Likely to be amongst the front-runners come Sunday afternoon is Spain's Raquel Carriedo, who secured her maiden professional victory last week in Taiwan.

For Carriedo the first win was a long-time coming, seven years in fact, and it took a brave four foot putt at the last for the Spaniard to overcome what she has since admitted was a huge psychological barrier.

The 29-year-old from Zaragoza, who last October became the first Spaniard to
represent Europe in The Solheim Cup, had no fewer than seven-runner placings
to her name, and was understandably desperate to prove she had the winning
"Hopefully it (the win) has made a big change to my mind and I can now go on
and make many more victories," said Carriedo, the current leader of the Evian Order of Merit.

"It was a huge mental barrier for me, and I was so happy to break it last week. At the time I didn't like to talk about it, but I can now I don't mind saying that it was playing a lot on my mind.

"After finishing runner-up seven times, I started to think that I was never going to make it. On the last day I was so nervous. I was fighting with myself all the time."

Four up going into the final day, it wasn't long before Carriedo's nerves started to take their toll, and it took a double bogey at the sixth, where she hit it out of bounds and at the same time relinquished the lead, for the Spaniard to settle down.

"I was swinging it far too quick and my caddie Andy (Deardon) told me to just slow it down - after that I started to play okay," added Carriedo, who has finished sixth on the Evian Order of Merit for the past two seasons.

"In the first two rounds I was very confident - I'd shot 32 over the back nine each day so I knew I was playing well. Maybe when I lost the lead after my double at the sixth I felt the pressure was off and this helped me relax.

"Now I feel that I don't have anything to prove anymore. You never stop learning in this game and next time I'm in the same position I hope I will be able to deal with the pressure much better."

Carriedo's nearest rival going into last week's final round was fellow Solheim Cup competitor Patricia Meunier Lebouc. However, the Parisian's challenge disappeared as she surprisingly crashed to a 75 and she was forced to settle for a share of sixth spot.

But Meunier Lebouc has already had three top-10 finishes on the 2001 Evian Tour and her consistency is likely to see her amongst the front-runner again this week.

"There was nothing especially wrong with my game in the final round, I think I just had a bad start and was then trying too hard," said Lebouc, winner of the 1999 Ladies French and Austrian Opens.

"Perhaps I was a little too ambitious on the last day and put too much pressure on myself. I wasn't thinking in a good way. But my game has gone up a level this season and I feel I can learn from last week.

"I sat down with my caddie and husband Antoine (Lebouc) and we discussed how we can improve for next time. That's the only thing that keeps you going in

Meunier Lebouc lies sixth on the Evian ranking after also finishing joint 10th in the ANZ Ladies Masters and tied for eighth in the AAMI Women's Australian Open a week later.

Despite missing the cut in the season-opening ANZ Masters, Germany's Elisabeth Esterl has moved into third place on the Order of Merit thanks to a fifth place in the Australian Open and a joint second finish in Taiwan.

Esterl held a share of the lead in Taiwan with just one hole to play, but saw her chances disappear when she bogeyed the par three 18th to finish one behind Carriedo.

The 24-year-old from Dingolfing equalled her career-best finish in Taiwan and will be looking to emulate Carriedo this week and break her professional duck.

Also in the hunt for her first Tour victory is Swede Anna Berg, who shared second spot with Esterl in Taiwan. Berg was all square with Carriedo with just the 18th to play, but had to settle for second after her tee shot carried the green and she was unable to get up and down.

"I actually hit that shot as well as any I'd made all day," said Berg, recovering from a fifth operation to repair cruciate ligament damage to her right knee.

"In fact I probably hit it too good and perhaps should have chosen a club less. It was disappointing, but it wasn't the pressure. I just hit it too good."

The 54-hole Nedbank Mastercard SA Ladies Open is the first joint-sanction event between the Evian Tour and the Nedbank LPG Tour of South Africa. There will be a cut after 36-holes, with the top 60 and ties going through to the final day.


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