Luis Castro and Korean Hwang Min-jeong battled through sun, drizzle and gale-force winds and came away with a 70 and 67, respectively, as they seized the lead in their respective sides at the start of the 2018 Philippine Amateur Open Championship at Riviera Golf and Country Club’s Couples course in Silang Cavite, on Thursday.
Castro and Hwang leaned on their backside charge to take control with the former, seeking a follow-up to his inaugural Aguinaldo Open romp last year, hitting three birdies against a bogey for a 36-34 card and a three-stroke lead over Thai Nopparat Panichphon, Rupert Zaragosa and Korean Tom Kim.
Hwang, on the other hand, sizzled with a four-birdie binge to post a huge four-shot margin over Korean Lee Ji Hyeon in the women’s division of the 72-hole championship sponsored by the MVP Sports Foundation and backed by One Tagaytay Place Hotel Suites as official hotel.
Aidric Chan, winner of last year’s NGAP Northern Luzon Regional, and Paolo Wong, who bagged the National Doubles title with Don Petil two weeks ago, also came up with late two-under cards to force a three-way tie for the lead in men’s play.
Zaragosa, a former champion, and Cebu’s Weiwei Gao actually wrested control with 35s at the front but wavered in the last nine holes. Zaragosa reeled from a double-bogey mishap on No. 15 while Gao faded with a bogey-marred 40.
Panichphon, meanwhile, fought back from a three-over card with back-to-back birdies from No. 16 as the Thai moved into early contention in the country’s premier event serving as part of the PLDT Group National Amateur Golf Tour.
Kim also squandered a frontside 34 with a closing 39 as he slid to joint second.
Edgar Oh and Donovan Lee, both of Singapore, also stayed in the hunt with 74s while Gao slipped to joint sixth at 75 in a tie with Gen Nagai of Japan and Aniceto Mandanas, the best-placed Filipino at fourth in last year’s staging of the tournament organized and conducted by the National Golf Association of the Philippines.
But while a furious battle for the men’s crown loomed despite Castro’s three-shot edge, Hwang opened up a lead in their side of the duel that her rivals might find it tough to overhaul given her form and playing condition.
She launched her bid with birdies on Nos. 2 and 3 and though she dropped to even par card with bogeys on Nos. 4 and 6, the young Korean, who once humbled the cream of local ladies golf with a victory in the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour at Mt. Malarayat, rebounded with three straight birdies from No. 9 then knocked down two more on Nos. 14 and 17 to pull away.
Lee matched Hwang’s opening 35 and fumbled with a double-bogey on No. 12 that negated her birdies on Nos. 10 and 16 for a 71.
Lois Go, last year’s winner of the Porter Cup, blew a 35 start with three bogeys against two birdies at the back as she matched par 72 while Harmie Constantino stumbled with late mishaps and dropped to fourth with a 73.
Constantino, who won this event in 2016, actually grabbed the lead at four-under on a three-birdie string from No. 10 but she double-bogeyed No. 13, dropped a shot on the 15th then lost two strokes again on No. 16.
Last year’s runner-up Kim Hee Ji of Korea carded a 74 in a tie with Clare Legaspi while Mikha Fortuna turned in a 75 and reigning Philippine Ladies Amateur Open champion Bianca Pagdanganan limped with a 77 on a closing 40.