Maja Stark remains on top of the Women’s NSW Open leader board heading into the final round at Coolangatta-Tweed Heads Golf Club.
The Swedish star carded a course record-equalling third-round six-under-par 66 to extend her overnight lead from one shot to four, getting to 13 under par after 54 holes. Stark’s fellow countrywoman Johanna Gustavsson (who also shot a course record 66) and 19-year-old Cassie Porter (67) sit in a tie for second place and will head out in the final group alongside Stark tomorrow.
Three players are in a tie for 4th at eight under, Scotland’s Michele Thomson, Magdalena Simmermacher of Argentina and Lydia Hall of Wales.
Despite ending the round with a comfortable buffer, it wasn’t all Stark’s day, and the lead changed several times throughout the afternoon.
Earlier, the Swede’s playing partner, Lydia Hall, made the first move of the day. The Wesh dynamo snared five birdies in her opening nine to establish a two-shot lead by the turn. Sadly her run came to a shuddering halt with a bogey on the 11th followed by a messy double bogey on the next, which all but extinguished her charge.
Playing in the group in front of Stark and Hall, rookie professional Cassie Porter also went on a tear. After an ugly dropped shot on the first, she hit her stride, running in five straight birdies from the 4th to 8th to get to eight under.
With the wisdom of Olympic Legend Dawn Fraser still ringing in her ears, the determined Porter was still keen to go lower. Two more birdies on the 10th and 13th, where she poured in a handy 12-foot putt, saw the 19-year-old grab the lead by herself for a period.
Sadly a bogey on the 16th stalled Porter’s run, and despite rolling in a handy birdie on the 17th, she made a meal of the 18th, dropping a shot after hashing her third shot from the greenside bunker.
Stark, who appeared to battle her swing in the early part of her round, was always in touch with the leaders. Her only mistake for the day, a bogey on the short par-four 7th, saw her fall two shots back of Hall’s lead.
“I think I compared myself to Lydia [Hall] and Maggie [Simmermacher] a lot because they started quick out the gates
“I didn’t start off that badly, but I did hit some very wide shots, which I haven’t done in so long, and I didn’t know what the problem was or what I did wrong. That was pretty frustrating,” Stark admitted.
“Seven was a bad shot. It was a closed face and not good, I know how to fix, but I don’t understand why it happened.
The dropped shot triggered the fighter inside of Stark, and her mood seemed to change courtesy of one of her now almost famous personal pep talks.
Back to Back birdies on the 9th and 10th followed, and from there, she was all but faultless, pouring in three more birdies over her final five holes.
“I finally found it at 11, and I knew how to hit, so I was so happy and excited to play the last eight holes. It helps when you make birdies, that brings up the mood,” she explained.
Tomorrow, Stark will be out to secure her third title in just under six months. Since turning professional in 2021, the Swede has scored victories in the Creekhouse Ladies Open and the Estrella Damm Ladies Open.
Lifting the Jan Stephenson trophy is something she has firmly in her sights and expects to accomplish.
” I always want to win. I always go into every tournament expecting the best from myself, so it shouldn’t be a weird thing or something unusual.
“I might get some nerves, but I just want to play my best, so we will see what happens tomorrow.”
Should she win tomorrow, Stark will join a list of past winners of the Women’s NSW Open which includes Dame Laura Davies, (2008), Lydia Ko (2012) and fellow Swedes Caroline Hedwell (2011/13) and 2020 Champion Julia Engstrom.