Yuka Saso led the assault of the amateurs in the opener of the ICTSI Eagle Ridge Ladies Invitational, shooting a five-under 67 for a two-stroke lead over Princess Superal, Pauline del Rosario and Korean Hwang Min-jeong at the Eagle Ridge Golf and Country Club in General Trias, Cavite on Wednesday.
Fresh from her victory in the Philippine junior match play tilt, Saso tamed the Aoki layout softened up by overnight rains with solid shotmaking and superb iron shots that set up a number of birdie chances, six of which she made inside seven feet before failing to get up-and-down on the par-3 16th on a scorching day.
That lone bogey ruined the 14-year-old shotmaker’s otherwise solid round but her 33-34, fashioned out under preferred lies rules, proved enough to put her two shots clear off Superal and fellow The Country Club teammate Del Rosario along with Hwang, who like Superal, has won a leg on the country’s premier ladies pro circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc. The troika put in identical 69s.
Thai Chatprapa Siriprakob took the cudgels for the pros in the early going, hitting three birdies after 13 holes but finished with two bogeys against one more birdie in the last five to settle for a 70 in a tie with compatriot Supakchaya Pattaranakrueang and Korean Kang Ji-won.
“I and my caddie just had good reads on the greens which are fast,” said Saso, on a home study program with Harvard School in Laguna who with Superal and Del Rosario also anchored the Philippines’ third place finish in Queen Sirikit Cup last month.
She also credited her impressive start to her short game that netted her a couple of scrambling pars while highlighting her round with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 12th and a long birdie putt on No. 14.
Superal, trying to add another pro crown to her trophy collection, hit just one birdie against a slew of pars in the first 11 holes but gunned down back-to-back birdies from No. 12 before closing out in rollercoaster fashion of two bogeys against two birdies.
“I feel good and I like my position but I need to polish my iron game and putting,” said Superal, who forced a three-way tie for second with a birdie from pin-high on the 18th.
Del Rosario, the reigning Thailand Junior and Thailand Ladies Amateur champion, actually groped for form and hobbled with a 37 after nine holes. But she found her rhythm and touch at the back, birdying four of the first six holes to stay in early contention for a first pro victory.
Sarah Ababa, chasing a follow-up to her breakthrough win at Sherwood last year, rallied with two birdies in the last five holes to save a 71 while Jayvie Agojo, another former leg winner in the circuit backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Sharp, Summit Mineral Water, Srixon, Champion, TaylorMade and Pacsports stood a stroke farther back at 72.
Chihiro Ikeda, the former amateur hotshot still in search for her first pro win in four years, also needed to birdie two of the last four to salvage a 73 although she lay six shots off Saso heading to the final 36 holes of the fourth leg of this year’s circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.