Bianca, Yuka in the hunt

Bianca Pagdanganan (left) is three strokes off the pace while Yuka Saso is lurking five shots behind.

TOKYO—Bianca Pagdanganan carded a two-under 69 and Yuka Saso went three over with a 74 and the two Filipinas stayed within striking distance of the pace at the start of the women’s competition of golf at the Kasumigaseki Golf Club course in Kawagoe on Wednesday.

Pagdanganan stayed cool with an ice pack in her bag to fight the immense Japanese summer heat, putting leader Madeline Sagstrom of Sweden within her sight in the 72-hole tournament being played at the par-71 course.

Also occasionally freshening up with a fan, the 23-year-old known as the longest hitter in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), Pagdanganan birdied her first two holes then kept her form when the heat started to yield its fury on the 60-player field.

Pagdanganan sank two more birdies against one bogey in her last five holes—highlighted by a near ace on the 16th—to share of seventh place with eight others, including  reigning Olympic champion Inbee Park of South Korea and fellow LPGA winner American Danielle Kang.

Saso, meanwhile, groped for the form that won her the US Women’s Open due to the heat that saw her caddie Lionel Matichuck recovering in a hospital on Tuesday and Pagdanganan’s coach Carito Villaroman being sent to a clinic inside the course due to dehydration.

Saso finished with that three-over round that tied her at 47th place. She made an early bogey on No. 2, got her rhythm going in the succeeding holes but faltered with successive bogeys from the 16th hole.

Lexi Thompson, on the other hand had to bring in a team manager the last three holes when her caddie succumbed to the heat.

Players walked down sunbaked fairways using umbrellas, some of them occasionally holding a bag of ice on their heads.

Sagstrom had a hot start of her own. With a tough pitch to four feet for par on the final hole, the Swede kept bogeys off her card on a day of searing heat for a five-under 66, giving her a one-shot lead over top-ranked Nelly Korda of the United States and Aditi Ashok of India.

Extreme heat is nothing new for most of the top players, with an LPGA Tour schedule that includes stops in Singapore and Thailand.

The heat index topped 37.8 Celsius and at that point caddies were allowed to remove their bibs.

Heat wasn’t the only problem. A tropical storm is approaching, and the current forecast is for a 70 percent chance of heavy rain on Saturday, a slighter higher chance on Sunday.

The competition must finish by Sunday when the Olympics close.

Heather Daly-Donofrio, an International Golf Federation technical delegate in charge of the women’s competition, said players have been informed about the possibility of a 54-hole event.

That depends on the weather, and a decision likely won’t be made until after the second round at the earliest. The extreme heat ruled out any thought of playing 27 holes apiece over the next two days because of player health.

“It’s hot, I’m not going to lie. It’s very hot,” Sagstrom said. “But it’s manageable. Most of us have been in Asia, played a lot of golf over here, so we know what to do. You drink a lot of water, you have cooling towels, umbrella, just maintaining the energy and not go crazy. I think at this point it’s harder for the caddies than it is for the players.”

No need to explain that to Thompson. She was walking up the 15th fairway when she said her caddie, Jack Fulghum, turned to her and said, “Do I look white to you?”

“I didn’t really notice. But he just didn’t look good,” Thompson said. “I just want him to be healthy, that’s all.”

She had him sit down off the green and brought in Donna Wilkins, who works in player services for the LPGA Tour and is on the staff for Team USA at the Olympics. Thompson birdied three straight holes, closed with a bogey and shot 72. With AP

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