Kanphanitnan Muangkhumaskul closed out both nines of Alabang Country Club with a burst of birdies – and an eagle on No. 7 – as she stormed past a steady Chihiro Ikeda and a faltering Lee Jeong Hwa of Korea to wrest control with a 69 for a one-stroke lead at the start of the rich ICTSI Philippine Ladies Masters in Muntinlupa on Wednesday.
Lee looked poised to launch her bid for a third Ladies Philippine Golf Tour/Taiwan LPGA crown in strong fashion when she went three-under with six holes to play at the front. But the Korean fumbled with bogeys on Nos. 4 and 6 and scrambled for pars in the last three to drop to joint fourth at 71.
That enabled Ikeda to take the challenger’s role as the Orchard leg winner carded a bogey-free 70 to tie Taiwanese Kuo Ai-Chen and another Thai Saranporn Langkulgasettrin while Hsieh Yu-Ling, also of Taiwan, turned in a two-birdie, one-bogey effort to join Lee and Thais Chorphaka Jaengkit and Chatprapa Siriprakob at 71 in the $80,000 championship sponsored by ICTSI and co-organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments and TLPGA.
Symetra Tour campaigner Mia Piccio bogeyed No. 8 and settled for a 72 in a tie with former LPGT Southlinks leg champion Hwang Ye-Nah of Korea and amateur Hou Yu-Sang of Taiwan while LPGA Tour-bound Dottie Ardina birdied the 18th to save a 73 in what she termed as a decent start in challenging condition, particularly the hard, unreceptive greens.
Joining Ardina at 12th were Princess Superal, amateur Pauline del Rosario, Taiwanese Huang Ching and Chen Yu-Ju and Thais Pattaraporn Mounchoo and Thanuttra Boonraksasat.
Cyna Rodriguez, the former three-time Order of Merit winner and LPGA campaigner, recovered with two birdies at the finish but still fell six strokes behind with a 75 in a tie with TLPGA OOM frontrunner Lin Tzu-Chi while Fil-Am Demi Runas limped with a 76 marred by a triple bogey on No. 15.
Third placer in the first two LPGT and TLPGA events at Splendido and Manila Southwoods both won by Lee last March, Muangkhumaskul put herself in early contention with three straight birdies to close out the backside where she started then eagled the seventh and birdied the next to negate her double-bogey mishap on the par-3 No. 6.
That put the Thai ace ahead of the 90-player field in a day of changing fortunes in windy condition at the par-72 layout inside the posh village as majority struggled on the tight fairways and tricky surface.
“My effort was okay but my putting not too good,” said Muangkhumaskul, who spiked her 35-34 card with a superb second shot from 219 yards to a pin-high eagle putt which she drilled in.
She actually fell below half of the 90-player field with bogeys on Nos. 10 and 12 but bounced back with back-to-back birdies from No. 13. She stumbled with another bogey on No. 15 but birdied the next three in impressive fashion.
Muangkhumaskul made it four straight with another birdie on the first hole but reeled back again with bogey on the third and a double-bogey on the sixth, promising to minimize her mistakes in the next two rounds of the $80,000 championship sponsored by ICTSI.
Ikeda also vowed to dish out her best in the last two days after barely surviving her day-long struggle on the tricky greens, salvaging pars in a number of times that she went out of regulation.
“I just got lucky my long putts kept rolling in. I had a hard time reading the greens,” said Ikeda, who saved pars on the par-4 despite dumping her drive into the water hazard and on No. 14 after her approach shot hit a tree.
“I must play my best in the last two days. We’ll never know what will happen,” she added.
Ardina also looked forward to a big rebound after a two-birdie, three-birdie effort dropped her to joint 00th, also ruing her mediocre stint on the greens.
“The course is challenging, particularly the green. I had a tough time adjusting my putts due to undulations, slopes,” said Ardina. “The strategy is to shoot under par but this time I need to adjust my yardage and should be less aggressive on approach shots.”