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Ashleigh Simon wins Catalonia Ladies Masters

South Africa's Ashleigh Simon became the youngest ever professional winner of a Ladies European Tour event at the Catalonia Ladies Masters in Spain.

The teenager, who turned 18 just 37 days ago on 11 th May, carded rounds of 70, 68 and two-under-par 70 to finish on a total of eight-under-par at Club de Golf Masia Bach near Barcelona.

She was the second youngest winner in Ladies European Tour history after South Korea's Amy Yang won the 2006 ANZ Ladies Masters in Australia as a 16-year-old amateur.

Simon turned pro a day after her 18 th birthday and was playing in only her fourth start as a professional. Her prize money of €58,500 was only her third ever pay-cheque. She missed the cut on her professional debut at the Deutsche Bank Ladies Swiss Open but finished joint 20 th and 28 th in the recent Northern Ireland Ladies Open and the KLM Ladies Open respectively.

Simon, who began the day a shot behind the overnight leader, Englishwoman Kirsty Taylor, finished the tournament two strokes ahead of her and Wales' Becky Brewerton. Both Taylor and Brewerton finished on six-under-par in total; with England's Trish Johnson a shot further back in fourth position on five-under after a 71.

Simon is now eligible to receive an exemption to play on the Ladies European Tour for the remainder of the current season as well as for the next three years. She also automatically qualifies to play in the prestigious Evian Masters tournament.

“ I don't have to go to qualifying school now; I can play in tournaments and organise my life better,” said an emotional Simon. “I have a job for the next three years! I don't have to worry about invites. This just opens so many doors for me.

“I knew I was hitting it good. I knew how to win from back home so a lot of other people in my position might not have handled it as well. But I'm lucky that I've got a lot of experience behind me and I've played in so many LET tournaments already as an amateur.”

Prior to turning professional, Simon had played in 10 LET events as an amateur. She was the leading amateur at the MFS Women's Australian Open in February, where she finished in 20 th place and she also represented South Africa in all three of the recent Women's World Cups alongside her compatriot Laurette Maritz.

In addition, she was the youngest player to receive full African colours aged 14, playing No.1 for her country in the Commonwealth tournament; the youngest player to win the ladies' SA Amateur Stroke Play and Match Play double and the first player in 101 years to win the South African Open title three times.

In 2004 she won the WPGA Ladies South African Open, the only amateur ever to have done so, and won a WGA Tour event each year since, including the 2007 WPGA Ladies Open in March. She capped her amateur career off by finishing top points' scorer of the 2007 WPGA Ladies Tour.

Simon is now one of the hottest young talents on the professional scene and in three weeks' time she will head to the United States to play in the $2million HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship, after she received one of the two sought-after invitations available on the strength of her amazing match play record.

She will return to Europe for Ricoh Women's British Open qualifying and will then play in the Scandinavian TPC Hosted by Annika in Sweden. “Now I can pick and choose which tournaments I play in!” said Simon, who is already a huge star in her native South Africa, where she is now heading.

“I've always had so much support so I'm looking forward to going home now for two weeks to celebrate,” she added.

Simon denied that she was nervous ahead of her final round but admitted that she had been sick through the previous night.

“I was throwing up from about half-past two to about four o'clock,” she said. “It was something I ate and I thought, “I can't believe this is happening to me at my first tournament where I'm in contention.” I haven't eaten much today. I did feel very relaxed out there about which I was very surprised.

“I was just giving myself opportunities all the time. That's what I needed to do – put the pressure on and let the rest of the field come and get me.”

A steady final round including three birdies on the front nine holes and a solitary bogey at the 12 th hole was good enough to see Simon defeat 39 of Europe's finest professionals. Playing in the penultimate match, she reached the last with a one stroke lead and made an excellent sand save under pressure.

Brewerton, playing in the final pairing, came closest to catching Simon. She was one stroke behind standing on the 18 th tee but bogeyed the last after flying the green with her second shot. She eventually carded a 72 to finish runner up for the fourth time.

She said: “I gave it a good go but I just made a couple too many mistakes at holes where I had short irons in. I've been struggling to stop the ball from spinning with my wedges so every time it's been coming back ten yards and it's been difficult to allow for because a lot of the pins today were difficult to go past.

“I drove the ball as straight as I ever have which you needed to do around here. My short game was good but I made a couple of mistakes but I gave it my best shot and committed to every shot where I could.”

Taylor had reached eight-under-par before taking an eight at the par-four eighth hole, which took her back to four-under in total. However she recovered with a birdie, birdie finish to sign for a 73.

“I'm pleased with the way I came back from my eight,” said Taylor. “I feel very positive. I had two good rounds and I finished tied second so I'm looking forward to next week.”

Spain's Paula Marti had a final round 71 and she finished in fifth place on four-under-par, while the defending champion Gwladys Nocera carded a final round 72 to finish alone in sixth position on three-under-par.

Catalonia Ladies Masters

Final scoreboard:

208  - Ashleigh Simon (SA) 70 68 70

210  - Becky Brewerton (WAL) 70 68 72, Kirsty Taylor (ENG) 68 69 73

211  - Trish Johnson (ENG) 71 69 71

212  - Paula Marti (ESP) 74 67 71

213  - Gwladys Nocera (FRA) 75 66 72

214  - Asa Gottmo (SWE) 74 68 72

216  - Ana B Sanchez (ESP) 76 70 70, Lotta Wahlin (SWE) 73 73 70, Lora Fairclough (ENG) 76 68 72, Iben Tinning (DEN) 72 69 75

217  - Marta Prieto (ESP) 77 69 71, Rebecca Hudson (ENG) 74 74 69

218  - Celeste Troche (PAR) 76 71 71, Veronica Zorzi (ITA) 72 70 76, Anja Monke (GER) 77 73 68, Amanda Moltke-Leth (DEN) 74 68 76

219  - Tania Elosegui (ESP) 76 70 73, Sophie Giquel (FRA) 76 70 73, Rebecca Coakley (IRE) 76 71 72, Lisa Hall (ENG) 78 66 75

220  - Karen-Margrethe Juul (DEN) 77 69 74, Karen Lunn (AUS) 70 75 75, Louise Friberg (SWE) 75 73 72, Nikki Garrett (AUS) 71 71 78

221  - Virginie Auffret (FRA) 76 72 73, Riikka Hakkarainen (FIN) 78 73 70

222  - Sarah Kemp (AUS) 73 72 77, Ludivine Kreutz (FRA) 74 71 77

223  - Lynn Brooky (NZ) 73 76 74

224  - Ana Larraneta (ESP) 81 67 76

225  - Beatriz Recari (ESP) 81 69 75, Marina Arruti (ESP) 78 72 75, Virginie Lagoutte-Clement (FRA) 77 74 74, Kirsty S Taylor (ENG) 72 81 72

226  - Stephanie Arricau (FRA) 77 76 73

231  - Elisa Serramia (ESP) 82 70 79, Sophie Sandolo (ITA) 83 73 75

232  - Nora Angehrn (SWI) 83 72 77, Bettina Hauert (GER) 85 71 76



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