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Aussie Smith has happy memories of NZ Open win

Published: 10:00PM Wednesday February 06, 2013 Source: ONE Sport

Former NZ Women's Open golf champion Kristie Smith is back in her favourite place and in good space ahead of the tournament starting on Friday at Clearwater Golf Club in Christchurch.

The Western Australian scored a breakthrough victory in the 2011 event at Pegasus Golf Club, north of Christchurch, and while riches may not have followed Smith, she is nonetheless buoyed by her form and the return to this country.

"I always love coming back to New Zealand," she said. "It is one of my favourite countries. I have always loved Christchurch and I had my first proper win here.

"I am playing good and looking forward to having a good week."

The 24-year-old believes her win in 2011, coming from behind in testing winds, will stand her in good stead this week at Clearwater.

"I played here in 2009, which was one of my first weeks as a pro. It is windy, but it is like where I come from in Perth, where you always get the afternoon strong breezes there.

"I proved in 2011 that you can still get the bad side of the draw in terms of conditions and win.

"This week will all depend on the weather. Clearwater is a pretty tough golf course. There's a lot of water and you have to hit good solid shots or the wind will take it."

Smith has retained her status on the Ladies European Tour, but focussed on the US scene last year, winning on the Symetra Tour and bagging four top-10s in the process. But for a third straight year, she missed qualification for the much-sought LPGA.

"If I play well, I will get my money up in Europe and then I can concentrate on the US. I really want to get my LPGA card, that is the main focus.

"If not I will go back to the LET, as I have a year exemption."

Smith said the event has attracted its strongest ever field.

"It is a really good field. A lot of the Americans have come down preparing for the Australian Open next week, which is the first event on the LPGA schedule.

"It's a good field this week and it will be nice when we beat them all."

That top quality field included Kiwi star and the world's top-ranked amateur, Lydia Ko, with Smith joining the ranks as a fan.

"I played a practice round with her two weeks ago and she still hits it so well. She is a little superstar in the making.

"What she did in the Canadian Women's Open was incredible to watch."

The NZ Women's Open has attracted a world-class field, including three of the previous four champions and Ko.

Also in the field for the championship from February 8-10 are Major champions Anna Nordqvist and Sophie Gustafson, both of Sweden.

World No19 Angela Stanford and Cheyenne Woods, the niece of Tiger Woods, are other notable players in a field that will include 32 LPGA Tour Players. The all-star cast that forms the strongest field ever assembled for the tournament also includes European No 1 Carlota Ciganda.

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