Korean Euna Koh birdied the difficult No. 18 to save a 72 then watched Thais Numa Gulyanamitta and Nimmitta Juntanaket flounder at the finish to gain a share of the lead at the start of the ICTSI Luisita Ladies Challenge at the Luisita Golf and Country Club in Tarlac on Tuesday.
Koh, still in search for a breakthrough win in the circuit, rallied from as many as three shots down with six holes to play as Gulyanamitta blew a two-under card with bogeys on Nos. 13 and 17 and Juntanaket dropped a stroke on the tough par-3 17th to force a three-way tie for the lead in the P1 million championship sponsored by ICTSI.
Rookie pro Pauline del Rosario did emerge as the top local performer with a 74 but the former Philippine Ladies Amateur Open champion stood two strokes behind with a birdie-less round out on a hot, humid day for another three-way tie at fourth with Nemittra Juntanaket, also of Thailand, and Indonesian Jessica Lydia.
Koh, who finished at No. 18 in last year’s Ladies Philippine Golf Tour’s Order of Merit ranking, flubbed a number of birdie chances in the early going and fell farther back with a bogey at No. 15 but finally drilled in an eight-footer for what was only the second birdie posted on the 383-yard last hole.
“I’m not expecting anything special but I would like to win this tournament,” said the 18-year-old Koh from Gwangju, who has had a number of poor finishes in her past campaign in the country’s first ladies pro circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Gulyanamitta earlier appeared headed to taming the tight par-72 layout softened up by overnight rain with an impressive three birdie-one bogey stint after 12 holes. But the 28-year-old shotmaker cracked under pressure and extreme heat, dropping two strokes in the last six holes for a 35-37 card.
“Despite my finish, I think this course suits my game. But I have to play it wisely, hit the greens and try to make the most of my birdie opportunities,” said Gulyanamitta from Rayong, who tied for 32nd in the second leg at Mt. Malarayat last month.
Nimmitta, meanwhile, bounced back from an opening 37 with birdies on Nos. 12 and 14 but grappled with her putter, missed grabbing the lead with a missed-green bogey on the hazard-laden 17th.
“My putting is no good,” said the 25-year-old shotmaker from Bangkok.
Del Rosario, who shared second place in the LPGT’s kickoff leg at Splendido but struggled to finish tied for 15th at Mt. Malarayat, rued the unreceptive greens but vowed to press her bid in the last two rounds of the event backed by Custom Clubmakers, BDO, Meralco, Sharp, KZG, PLDT, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and K&G Golf.
Nemittra, on the other hand, gunned down two birdies but fumbled with four bogeys for a pair of 37s while Lydia, still in hunt for a solid finish in the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., hit three birdies, including the two par-5s at the back, but hobbled with three bogeys and a double-bogey for a 39-36.
Fil-Am Cristina Corpus, who humbled an elite field to nail her maiden win here in 2015, also failed to get going with a five-bogey against a birdie card, her 76 dropping her to joint seventh with Thai Jaruporn Palakawongnaayuttawa.
Sarah Ababa, still seeking the form that netted her a breakthrough win at Sherwood in 2015, limped with a birdie-less 77 for joint ninth with Eva Miñoza while amateur Soifa Chabon of The Country Club dropped three strokes in the last four holes to card a 79 in a tie with Apple Fudolin and Thai Janjira Tiensa-ard.
The rest lay too far behind the joint leaders with Anya Tanpinco missing a Top 10 spot with bogeys in the last two holes for an 80 and last year’s Orchard leg winner Chihiro Ikeda shooting herself in the foot with a birdie-less 81 in a tie with Lina de Guzman.