A memorable first day of action at the 2017 3e Actuaries Open saw Madalitso Muthiya and Jenny Lee draw first blood in Mongomo.

With mixed groups of men and ladies there was fun and banter aplenty on the spectacular Presidential Golf Course but with a combined prize fund of US$250,000 on offer this week in Equatorial Guinea the players were all business when they stepped up to the tee.

Madalitso, from Zambia, put together a classy round of 4 under 68 to edge one stroke in front of Zimbabwean pair Ryan Cairns and Ben Follet-Smith and England’s Luke Joy, on a day of tough scoring as many players struggled with the tricky Mongomo layout’s tight fairways.

“I had a great round of golf and hit some really nice shots out there,” said Madilitso. “I liked the way the pairings worked – having a lady in my group was a lot of fun!

“I drove the ball really well; my iron shots were really good and I converted the putts that I needed to convert so I was happy to come away 4-under par. I made a couple of bogeys late in the day but managed to birdie two of the last three so that was the real upside to my round.”

Cairns, making his second appearance in the event, was delighted to get off to a solid start in an event he described as “second to none.”

“It was pretty hot out there but the course is in immaculate condition,” he said. “I played last year and loved the course but this year we’ve all been completely blown away.

“I played nicely, got off to a good start and was 3-under through five or six and then I just finished with around 12 or 13 pars in a row, but I played solid – hit it great and putted nicely so overall very happy.

“This event is second to none, you can’t compare it to any other tournament we play. It takes a little while to get here but it’s all worth it in the end. Olawale Opayinka is just an unbelievable host. The hotel, the golf course, the food, the people – it’s just perfect.

On the ladies side, Lee, a good friend of former PGA Tour player Charlie Wi who is also in the field this week, only arrived in Mongomo late on the eve of the first round. But she showed no sign of tiredness as she rattled off six birdies on the way to an opening round of 3-under 69, despite having never played the course before.

“It took four days to get here but it’s been great,” said the American. “I didn’t have a practice round but Charlie updated me about the course on the way here this morning and it worked out great.

“When I was on the range I looked at the first hole and thought ‘man, this is a narrow golf course’ but Charlie just said, ‘you can hit fairways, you’ll be fine.’ I made a lot of birdies, just knocked it close and made the putts.”

Wi, who is lying in a share of sixth place at 1-under, is making his second appearance at the event after teeing it up for the first time in Mongomo last year and Lee revealed that it was on his recommendation that she made the trip from the USA to play this week.

“He said he had a great time and that the organisers treat you really well and so far it’s been awesome.”

England’s Sophie Walker, who plays on the Ladies European Tour, also got off to a great start in her 3e Actuaries Open debut, making birdies on holes four, eight, 12 and 17 to join Alejandria Laneza, Elin Arvidsson and Maria Jose Uribe at 2-under 70.

“I was 1-0ver through the first four holes,” said Walker who played the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic last week. “But then I got it going was just really steady. I didn’t miss anything inside 10 feet which helped.

“It took us a while to get here from Dubai but I’ve got to say, now we’re here, I’m really enjoying it. The hotel is great, the people are great and I’ve really enjoyed the golf course so it’s so far so good!”

There’s a lot of golf still to be played, but if the opening round was anything to go by, you can be sure there are plenty of twists and turns still to come in the battle to be crowned King and Queen of Africa.

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