Chihiro Ikeda bucked a wrist injury and a wobbly start with a blistering midway charge as she salvaged an even-par 70 to grab a one-stroke lead over Princess Superal at the start of the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) Tagaytay Highlands Challenge Highlands Golf and Country Club in Tagaytay City on Wednesday.
Ikeda bounced back strong from two bogeys and a double bogey in the first four holes with five birdies in an eight-hole stretch from No. 6 then survived a shaky finish of two bogeys against a birdie in the last five to seize control in the P1-million event sponsored by ICTSI.
Superal, seeking an end to a long spell on the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour, actually wrested control with a one-under 33 start. But she wavered at the back, dropping strokes on No. 13 and the difficult closing hole to slip to second with a 71.
With the rest succumbing to the dreaded winds and tight fairways, the chase for the top P250,000 purse could be reduced to the two leading players who have put premium on caution given the prevailing condition on the rolling layout.
“The course is tough and I have to play extra careful with my shots since I’m still favoring my wrist,” said Ikeda, seeking a follow-up to her two-stroke victory over Superal in the Eagle Ridge stop of the circuit, organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments Inc., last month.
“I’ll just go for regulation and make the most of the birdie chances,” added the former Southeast Asian Games individual gold medalist who also won at Forest Hills last year.
Superal, meanwhile, went straight to the range to check on her stance, which she partly blamed for her shaky finish. And like Ikeda, she stressed the need to be cautious on each shot with troubles lurking on every hole.
“It’s hard to play the course with the winds coming into play on most holes. The fairways are also tight, so I have to keep my shots safe,” said Superal, who last won in 2016.
Top amateur Kristine Torralba rallied with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 to save a 75 and tie Thai Sarinee Thitiratanakorn at third. Thitiratanakorn, just two behind Superal at the turn, fumbled at the back with four bogeys in the last seven, including three straight from No. 12, as she dropped five strokes off Ikeda.
Cyna Rodriguez, who had hoped for a strong start coming off a stint in Korea, never got into contention with six birdies and a double bogey in the first 14 holes, stopping her run of mishaps with a birdie on the 16th to finish with a 77 for solo fifth.
Thai Saruttaya Ngam-usawan, winner at Royal Northwoods in 2016, birdied the opening hole but faded just as quickly with three bogeys and three double bogeys for a 78 in a tie with another amateur in Mafy Singson, while Amolkan Phalajivin, the first Thai to win on the LPGT at Splendido in 2014, birdied No. 16 to card a 79 for joint eighth with former leg winner Sarah Ababa.