Australian Whitney Hillier fired an opening six-under-par 66 – her best round on the Ladies European Tour – to lead a LET event for the first time at the Italian Open.
The 23-year-old second-year professional from Perth fired seven birdies and one bogey on the tight and tree-lined Perugia Golf Course to end a stroke clear of England’s Rebecca Hudson, with six further players on three-under.
Hillier felt very comfortable on the course, which reminded her of home, playing in temperatures of 28 degrees.
“I felt right in my element today because Perth’s nice and hot and today was perfect out there. We’ve been very lucky with the weather,” said Hillier, who recorded a career-best finish of third in Slovakia 12 months ago.
“It was a great start. I’ve just changed coach and changed my swing a little bit. I felt really good out there. I didn’t put any pressure on myself and free flowed and it was good fun.”
She began with three birdies on the back nine, at holes 14, 16 and 17, before dropping her only shot of the day on 18. She then picked up four birdies on the front nine, including a chip in from the bunker short of the green on the second-last hole.
“I chipped in from the bunker on eight. I wasn’t too worried about that because I love those little flop shots. A minute before, I said: ‘I’m going to hole it’, and I did. I kept it pretty solid all day – 15 greens and 27 putts. It felt really good and consistent today so the hard work is paying off.”
Those on three-under were Italian Diana Luna, England’s Holly Clyburn and Florentyna Parker, Amy Boulden of Wales, Germany’s Ann-Kathrin Lindner and Danish rookie Nicole Broch Larsen.