amateur golf
amateur golf


Sweden's Sophie Gustafson heads a strong field in the 2001 La Perla Ladies Italian Open at Poggio dei Medici GC in Tuscany starting on Thursday.

The 27-year-old returns to the Evian Tour in top form after impressive performances on the LPGA and is hot favourite to defend the title she won in style last year.

The big-hitter from Saro has won on both Tours already this year, beating former world number one Karrie Webb in both the Subaru Memorial of Naples in Florida on the LPGA and in the AAMI Australian Open on the Evian Tour.

Moreover, two weeks ago, she narrowly lost in a playoff in the Chick-fil-A
championship against current world number one Annika Sorenstam. Gustafson lies third in the Evian Tour Order of Merit behind Spain's Raquel Carriedo and Germany's Elisabeth Esterl and is keen to retain her top spot, starting with a win this week.

"It's great being back here, I love the course and I am playing pretty well, I just need to find my rhythm," said Gustafson.

"I am aiming to retain the Order of Merit and if I play good and peak during
the right tournaments, I have every chance."

Carriedo heads the ranking thanks to her first Tour win at the Taiwan Ladies
Open in March. She followed it with second place in the Nedbank South
African Masters and leads Esterl by less than 500 points.

The 30-year-old from Zaragoza is aiming to consolidate her position at the
top of the Order of Merit but the Solheim Cup star will have tough competition in her first and second rounds from her playing partners Gustafson and England's Samantha Head.

Head, Italian Open winner in 1999, has worked hard on her game and her fitness during the winter and hopes it will benefit her this season. With a win in the Nedbank Mastercard SA Masters in March, she arrived in Italy in good form after developing her game with former Ryder Cup star Antonio Garrido.

Garrido wrote Head a regime that she sticks to vehemently, no matter what
the circumstances, even if she is in contention on Sunday afternoon.

"The plan is not to win every week, it is just to stick to my routine" said Head. "I won't be thinking about winning even if I am up the leaderboard on Sunday, I will just be focussed on my routine and whatever happens, happens.

"I have seen Antonio quite a few times and have been working with him on
improving my game. I have gained maybe a couple of yards since my win in
South Africa, but I still need to work on strengthening my legs to improve
further and pay attention to my short game."

But although Head remains coy about her ambitions on Tour this year, she does not hide the fact that the course suits her game and she likes the way the Poggio layout is set up this year with its smooth receptive greens.

"The course is in fantastic condition and the greens are not as quick as the
ones I played on in America recently. You can fire a ball into them and it will hold and not bounce away," she added.

England's Trish Johnson makes a welcome return to Tour golf after spending
the winter months sidelined with an elbow injury. The 35-year-old from Bristol rested the injury through the off season and began playing again in the spring. She returned to the competitive arena with an impressive runner up performance in the Sunningdale Foursomes, partnering fellow Arsenal fan Jamie Spence.

"Despite not playing for a while, I have hit enough good shots in a day and a half to know that I am playing well enough. My short game is good, which is surprising," said Johnson.

And she is confident that her elbow will hold up under tournament pressure this week and is aiming to top the Order of Merit for the first time since 1990.

"The elbow is a little sore, but it's not hurting when I hit shots. I'm taking some
Voltarol to keep the inflammation down," she added.
"I'll be playing over in Europe for most of the time now, so the Order of Merit is one of my goals. I just want to get some wins under my belt really, I felt like I should have done that last year, but I didn't."

Local Italian interest is centered around Sophie Sandolo and Guilia Sergas. The pair have just signed a deal with title sponsors La Perla Studio to wear their brand of clothing on the Tour.


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