On a day when no other player in the field managed to break 70 in windy conditions, England’s Felicity Johnson shot a bogey-free eight-under par 64 to come out of nowhere and grabbed a two-shot lead after the second round of the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters.
One-over par 73 after her opening round, the 29-year-old from Birmingham made the most of her red-hot irons as she made eight birdies – four on either side of the golf course – to finish on seven-under par 137, two better than overnight leader, England’s Florentyna Parker (72).
India’s Aditi Ashok, the prodigal 18-year-old who could match a 27-year-old record on the Ladies European Tour with a third consecutive victory, shot a two-under par 70 and kept herself in contention.
Ashok was tied third at four-under par along with Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen (71). If she wins on Saturday, she will equal the record of France’s Marie-Laure de Lorenzi, who won three straight titles in 1989.
Defending champion Shanshan Feng could not make a desired move, even though her 70, along with that of six others, was the second best score of the day. The Chinese world No4, the highest ranked player in the field, was tied 13th at two-under par.
But the story of the day was Johnson. Not having the best of seasons on the Tour, she is currently ranked 54th in the Order of Merit, having made only seven cuts in 12 starts. Her previous best this year was a tied second finish in New Zealand, right at the beginning of the season.
However, the two-time winner on the LET could feel her form coming back, especially with a 66 during the final stage of the LPGA Tour Qualifying School last week.
On Friday though, she just could do no wrong.
“I hit a lot of really close iron shots. I holed out really well with my putts but I had probably had seven birdie putts within four feet, so that always makes the game a little bit easier,” said Johnson.
“All the ones I hit close, I converted, so just 24 putts. Hitting a lot of good iron shots, you’re going to have a good score.”
Johnson, who started with four birdies in her first five holes, was happy to be in the position she was in, hoping to win her first title since the 2011 Lacoste Ladies Open de France.
“It’s only a three-round event, so you try to put yourself in a good position heading into the final day. I think I did that pretty well today,” she added.
Parker made three birdies and three bogeys in her round of 72, and said she is expecting nothing less than a victory.
The 27-year-old has her mother, Gina, is on her bag this week, and that would be a good omen as the Englishwoman’s last win in 2014 Italian Open came with the same ‘caddie’.
“She has no idea about golf. In fact, I tell her where to stand. That’s what we talk about, where to stand for the next shot and not be in anyone’s way. We just talk about non-golf things,” said Parker, who is fourth in the Order of Merit this year without any win.
“The only thing I haven’t done this year is win and that’s all I’m going to do tomorrow. And I’m just going to go for it. That’s what I’ve got to do. Even if I finish second or third, I’m not really interested.”
Tragedy struck day one of the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters when caddie Max Zechmann collapsed and later died in the hospital. The incident led to the Ladies European Tour and organisers ‘golf in DUBAi’ to suspend the opening round.
At approximately 10:00am GST, Zechmann – who was caddying for French player Anne-Lise Caudal – slumped on the fairway of the 13th hole. He was attended by the paramedics of the golf course, before being rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Play was first suspended for one at 10.30am as officials waited for news, and later, for the whole day.
Austrian native Zechmann, 56, was a former caddie on the European Tour where he carried the bag for compatriot Marcus Brier and German Marcel Siem.
He is believed to have retired in 2014 and moved to Dubai. He wasn’t a regular caddie on the Ladies European Tour, and is said to have been a ‘walk-in’ to assist Caudal for the week.
Zechmann is survived by his wife Eleanor, and three sons.
In a statement released, LET CEO Ivan Khodabakhsh said: “Everyone at the Ladies European Tour is extremely shocked and saddened today by this sudden death and therefore we have taken the decision to suspend first round play as a mark of respect.
“On behalf of our membership, we offer heartfelt condolences to the individual’s family and loved ones.”
Later, speaking to Sport360, Khodabaksh added: “I don’t think it was a difficult decision (to suspend play). As soon as we understood it was serious case, we then decided to suspend play in order to collect the facts and understand what’s going on.
“We don’t want players to be traumatised and also, it was out of respect for the person involved so we could provide our full attention to the case.”
Khodabaksh said he had spoken Caudal after the incident and added: “I’ve been speaking to a number of players and of course, I spoke to Anne-Lise. Without question, she was pretty shocked and shaken. She’s surrounded by her many friends right now. But yes, it’s tragic to see somebody like that.”
American Beth Allen, leading the Order of Merit this week, said she completely understood the decision by the organisers to suspend day’s play under the circumstances.
“I hundred per cent agree with the decision that was made out of respect for him and his family. I don’t think anybody has any qualms about it,” said Allen.
Mohamed Juma Buamaim, vice chairman and CEO of golf in DUBAi said: “We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Mr Zechmann. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time. May his soul rest in peace.”
In the time play was possible in the opening round, England’s Florentyna Parker had raced to seven-under par after nine holes, while Cheyenne Woods was four-under par after six. Australia’s Witney Hillier made a hole-in-one on the fourth hole and was three-under par after five.
Round one will resume Thursday and the tournament will now be played over 54 holes.
Sport360 reporter Joy Chakravarty covered the immensely sad developments on Twitter.
Play being suspended at Dubai Ladies Masters for an hour after a caddie collapses on the golf course. @Sport360— Joy Chakravarty (@TheJoyofGolf) December 7, 2016
Really sad development at Dubai Ladies Masters - the caddie of Anne-Lise Caudall has had a heart issue and taken to hospital. @Sport360— Joy Chakravarty (@TheJoyofGolf) December 7, 2016
Shocked and upset players gather near the players lounge. Our thoughts with the deceased's family and Anne-Lise.— Joy Chakravarty (@TheJoyofGolf) December 7, 2016
The Ladies European Tour has been ending its season every year in Dubai with the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters for the past 10 years, and this year, Abu Dhabi and Doha joined the schedule with the inaugural Fatima Bint Ladies Open and the Qatar Ladies Open.
The 28-year-old from Casablanca, who is enjoying one of her finest seasons on the Tour and is currently 46th in the Order of Merit, welcomed the new additions to the Tour. She even notched her career best LET finish in Abu Dhabi – a tied for 14th place.
“It’s great that we are having a lot of tournaments in Morocco and the Middle East. It’s something I’m really happy about and I proud of. I think it’s a region that has a lot to offer to women’s golf, and women’s golf has a lot to offer, also, to the region. It’s a good thing,” said Haddioui.
“The way it started, Morocco and Dubai have really been like the first ones to do it, and they have set a tradition of doing the women’s tournaments. It’s had a positive impact on other countries that are now doing it, so it’s great.
“Of course. The Arab world is not getting the best publicity now with what’s happening. People think differently of the region we’re in. And I think organising women’s events in any sport, is a good thing.
“You come here and it just feels like it could be anywhere; you could be in the US and it would feel the exact same way. And really, a lot of people don’t know that.
“Even for players coming here, and just posting pictures and seeing things. I mean, obviously everyone knows about Dubai. It’s Dubai; it’s really cool. But it gives out a statement for the whole region and it’s really opened and it’s doing now as much for the women as it has for the men.”