RIANNE MALIXI put up a flawless closeout and pounced on Daniella Uy’s flawed finish as the country’s top amateur nailed another pro victory in the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) Iloilo Golf Challenge presented by MORE Power with a solid 66 to beat Chihiro Ikeda by four strokes on Friday.
It took Malixi just nine holes to overcome Uy’s overnight six-stroke lead at the Iloilo Golf and Country Club as Malixi rattled off three birdies inside six feet for a 33 and Uy crumbled with an uncharacteristic 41 marred by a disastrous triple-bogey on the first hole.
That set the tone for the rout as Malixi, 16, stayed focused and kept her poise in the last nine holes, birdying the 16th for good measure to complete a four-under card and a 209 total after 70 and 73 in the first two rounds of the P875,000 championship.
The victory snapped Malixi’s run of fruitless campaigns here and abroad that saw her miss a podium finish in the recent Queen Sirikit Cup at Manila Southwoods after yielding the bronze to Korean Hyunjo Yoo in the countback, and ending up tied at 13th in the Women’s Amateur Asia Pacific Championship in Singapore.
She also struggled in the first of the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour’s (LPGT) two-leg Visayan swing where she wound up a distant joint third at Marapara and appeared headed for another unsuccessful stint this week after trailing Uy by six with 18 holes left to play in the P875,000 championship.
But after watching Uy fumble with a triple-bogey mishap on the first hole, she knew she had a chance.
“I wasn’t really thinking about what the others were doing but heading to the last round, I knew I had a chance,” Malixi said. “I just had to play my shot the best way I know how and I think that was the key.”
Ikeda also waged her own battle from 12 strokes down in an earlier flight, producing a tournament-best 64, also in bogey-free fashion, but the reigning LPGT Order of Merit champion could only finish second at 213.
But Ikeda’s final round rally netted her the top P105,000 prize as Malixi, who swept all her three events in last year’s LPGT, took home the championship trophy.
“This win is huge because my mom is here, so then my coach-caddie [Rick Gibson], who was with me the past two weeks,” Malixi said “But the key was being consistent and trying to be patient all the way through.”
Sarah Ababa also fought back with a 69 to snare third place at 217 and pocketed P74,375 for the second straight week, while Pamela Mariano also closed out with a one-under card to tie Uy at 218. They split the combined P114,625 prize.
Uy never recovered from a five-over frontside and made another triple bogey on No. 11 then yielded three more strokes in the last four holes for a birdie-less 81. She tumbled to joint fourth.
Chanelle Avaricio and amateur Mafy Singson matched 72s as they tied Harmie Constantino, who floundered with a 77, at sixth at 221 while Florence Bisera (77) and Sunshine Baraquiel (75) finished ninth and 10th with 222 and 223, respectively.
Malixi’s victory practically mirrored Avaricio’s stirring fightback from eight shots down to edge Ababa by one in last week’s ICTSI Negros Occidental Classic at Marapara. But while it took Avaricio a closing even-par round to pound out the come-from-behind win, Malixi needed to gut it out and produce a string of birdies to overhaul a six-stroke deficit and re-set her title drive in motion.
A solid frontside assault that featured birdies on Nos. 4 and 7 and 8 for a 33, coupled with Uy’s faulty start and bogeys on Nos. 6 and 7, netted Malixi a huge eight-shot swing and the current toast of amateur golf took charge by two at the turn.
She remained in control despite a run of pars at the back as Ikeda, who sustained her four-birdie binge at the front with another birdie on the 10th, slowed down with seven straight pars before holing out with her sixth birdie.
“I didn’t feel any pressure at the back,” said Malixi, whose local and overseas campaign is backed by ICTSI, Sky Flakes, TaylorMade, adidas and Lola Nena’s. “I was just minding my own game and I was able to hit shots and place them on the right spots.”
Next stop for Malixi is a stint in Japan and the Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia in May.
Image credits: ROY DOMINGO