Amateur Yuka Saso gunned down a late eagle to spike a brilliant five-under 67 and threatened to smother the pro field with a whopping five-stroke lead over Pauline del Rosario and Thai Ploychompoo Wirairungreung after two rounds of the ICTSI Ayala Greenfield Ladies Challenge in Calamba, Laguna on Thursday.
Making up for her mid-round meltdown that enabled Thais Thanuttra Boonraksasat and Wirairungreung to grab a share of the first day honors at 72 Wednesday, Saso tamed the wind and the undulating surface of Ayala Greenfield Golf and Country Club with superb shotmaking, iron game and putting.
She hit two early birdies, negated a bogey on No. 5 with another birdie on the next then hit another birdie on No. 13 before capping her 34-33 card with a spectacular eagle on the par-5 17th off a solid 50-degree wedge shot from 80 yards that bounced once and rolled into the cup.
And while her fancied pro rivals hobbled on the hilly layout in windy condition and struggled on the tricky surface, the 16-year-old Fil-Japanese made it look easy and moved 18 holes away from humbling an elite pro cast with a 36-hole aggregate of five-under 139.
“I was just lucky to score this low as strong winds lashed the course all day. It was really fantastic,” said Saso, who also pounced on del Rosario and Wirairungreung’s shaky finish to storm to a five-stroke lead heading to the last 18 holes of the P750,000 tournament sponsored by ICTSI.
Del Rosario actually moved within one off Saso with a 33 start but the newly crowned Ladies Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit winner bogeyed two of the last five holes for a 70 while the Thai bogeyed No. 17 for a second straight 72 as they shared second with 144s.
Four Thais took the next spots but Punpaka Phuntumabamrung lay seven shots behind at 146 after a 72, Chonlada Chayanun pooled a 148 with a 73, Saraporn Chamchi matched par 72 for a 149 and Thanuttra Boonsarat skied to a 78 for a 150.
Boonraksasat, who matched Saso’s opening 72 to force a three-way tie for the lead, faded after a birdie on No. 2 as she slipped with a horrendous quadruple bogey on the par-4 No. 4. She also made three bogeys and a double bogey against two birdies.
The other local aces also virtually kissed their title bid goodbye in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. with Chihiro Ikeda battling back with a 70 for joint 10th with Thai Aunchisa Utama, who fumbled with a 74, at 151; Dottie Ardina reeling from a triple-bogey mishap on No. 15 and ending up with a 74 for a 152; and Cyna Rodriguez and Princess Superal turning in a 74 and 76, respectively, for a share of 11th with Thais Pakpring Duangchan (77), Saruttaya Ngam-usawan (75) and Wannasiri Sirisampant (78) at 154.
Despite five shots behind, del Rosario remained hopeful of her chances but stressed the need to come up with a solid stint on the greens to get back into title contention in the kickoff leg of the 2018 season of the LPGT backed by Custom Clubmakers, BDO, Meralco, Sharp, KZG, PLDT, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and K&G Golf.
“I struggled with my putting, couldn’t get the right speed and failed to sustain my three-under start. Hopefully, I can get my timing tomorrow (today),” said del Rosario. “I believe I still have a chance at winning (the crown).”
Saso, meanwhile, refused to predict what score she would need to secure the crown but vowed to stay focused and thwart the expected charge of del Rosario and Wirairungreung.
“My game plan is to play extra cautious and avoid getting into trouble,” said Saso, the reigning national stroke and match play champion. “And I will just play my game to ease up the pressure.”