CHIHIRO IKEDA took charge with a birdie start and had to hold sway despite a gut-wrenching run of bogeys for a 74 as the rest tripped coming home in both sides of Valley South after 18 holes of the Ladies International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) Valley Golf Challenge in Antipolo City on Tuesday.
As “three-peat” hunting Harmie Constantino groped for form and hardly survived a birdie-less round of 76, Ikeda banked on a fine start and conservative to stay on top despite miscues on Nos. 3, 14 and 18 at the demanding up-and-down layout.
“I just tried not to be too aggressive because the course is difficult,” said Ikeda, who had hoped for a big round after sinking an 18-foot putt for birdie on the first hole.
It never came as she failed to rescue pars after missing the greens, the last she described as “good” after hitting it behind and into the front-green bunker.
But the reigning Ladies Professional Golf Tour (LPGT) Order of Merit champion’s 36-38 proved enough to net her a one-stroke lead and spark a campaign coming off a runner-up finish in the inaugural Ladies Philippine Masters at Villamor a couple of weeks back.
But three players of varying styles and skills put in identical 75s, including perennial contender Daniella Uy and title-hungry Florence Bisera and Martina Miñoza, while Constantino, despite her four-over start, stayed in the thick of things at joint fifth with Korean amateur Min Yeong Kim.
Bisera also hit an early birdie (No. 11) in a backside start but made three bogeys in a four-hole stretch from No. 14 and yielded another stroke on the sixth. But she tied Ikeda with a birdie on the seventh, only to fall behind again with another mishap on the tough par-3 No. 8.
“I missed a couple of par putts from short range at the front so I have to stay focused tomorrow [Wednesday] and try to hit more fairways and greens,” said Bisera, hoping to finally hit paydirt this week.
Miñoza also shot two birdies but made a couple of three-putts, including one that led to a double-bogey on the 16th although like Bisera, she liked her chances for a breakthrough win in the 54-hole championship serving as the sixth leg of this year’s LPGT.
Sarah Ababa and Gretchen Villacencio also stayed in the race with 75s while top amateur Lois Kaye Go failed to rebound from a backside 40 start as she bogeyed two of the last three holes for a 78.
Mikha Fortuna, meanwhile, turned in a not-so-encouraging start to a pro debut as she wound up with a 79 marred by four straight bogeys from No. 4. She parred the next four holes but dropped more strokes on Nos. 12, 15 and 16 and ended up without a bogey in a 40-39 round.
Joining the Oklahoma U product at 10th, five strokes off Ikeda, are Monica Mandario, Pamela Mariano, Korean Ju Young Yang, and amateurs Mafy Singson and Jiwon Lee, also of Korea.
Image credits: Nonie Reyes