• Ikeda takes charge with 69

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    Chihiro Ikeda birdied the first two holes then holed out with another birdie to shoot a three-under 69 and wrest a one-stroke lead over Jayvie Agojo at the start of the P500,000 ICTSI Orchard Golf Ladies Classic at Orchard’s Player Course in Dasmariñas, Cavite on Monday.

    Seeking her first LPGT win after churning out a pair of runner-up finishes in last year’s inaugurals of the country’s first-ever ladies pro tour, Ikeda leaned on a near-impeccable 33 start to seize control then rolled in a six-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th to cushion the impact of a shaky windup for that 69.

    “The two early birdies boosted my confidence and though I dropped I shot on the third, I got it back with another birdie on No. 4,” said Ikeda, who also birdied the par-5 ninth to go three-under. “But I had rollercoaster ride at the back and needed to birdie the 18th to stay in command.”

    Agojo actually matched Ikeda’s opening 33 in sweltering heat but the former Philippine Ladies Open champion, who finished second to Cyna Rodriguez in the Order of Merit ranking without winning a leg in the five-stage circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. last year, lost her touch at the tougher backside of the par-72 layout, settling for a slew of pars while bogeying the par-3 No. 14 on a missed green mishap for a two-under 70.

    “The front nine was a bit easier but the back was tougher and longer and I needed to use hybrid and woods for my second shots. But overall, my short game was pretty solid,” said Agojo, who also credited caddy Tonlits Asistio’s help in reading the layout’s unpredictable surface.

    Rodriguez, who won two legs en route to bagging the OOM crown in last year’s inaugurals of the circuit put up International Container Terminal Services, Inc., turned in a 35 at the front but struggled with her balky putter at the back and wavered with three bogeys against two birdies a for a 72, three strokes adrift.

    “I have to read my putts well tomorrow (today) but I still feel I can contend for the title,” said Rodriguez, who made an errant pitch on the par-3 No. 3 for bogey but tapped in for birdie on the next before canning in a 20-footer for another birdie on the sixth.

    She, however, drove into the hazard on No. 12, fought back with another gimme birdie on the next but three-putted Nos. 15 and 17 before banging in a 15-footer for birdie on the 18th.

    Thai Amolkan Phalajivin, tipped as a top contender after a dominant performance in the ICTSI LPGT Qualifying School last February, groped for form and fumbled with two double bogeys and six bogeys but eagled the final hole to card an eight-over 80 and fell 11 shots off Ikeda.

    Amateur Daniella Uy, coming off a runaway win in last week’s Philippine Amateur Match Play, bogeyed two of the last five holes and missed joining Rodriguez at third, finishing with a 73 while Lovelynn Guioguio and Anya Tanpinco shot identical 75s and stayed six shots off the pace in the 54-hole tournament backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports , Custom Clubmakers and Sharp.

    Mary Grace Estuesta, the former Phl Ladies Open champion and many-time member of the national team, carded a 79 to join Lucy Landicho, Apple Fudolin, Sarah Ababa and amateurs Sam Bruce and LK Go while Korean Seo Yon Kwon hobbled with an 81 for joint 14th with Lina de Guzman.

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