Amateur Yuka Saso blew a hot three-under card with a wobbly stint in blustery condition midway through the opening round, enabling Thais Thanuttra Boonraksasat and Ploychompoo Wirairungreung to force a three-way tie for the lead at 72 in the ICTSI Ayala Greenfield Ladies Challenge in Calamba, Laguna on Wednesday.
Saso bounced back strong from an opening hole bogey with four birdies in the next five, including three straight from No. 4, but the reigning national champion failed to sustain her charge in tough condition and closed out her frontside stint with back-to-back bogeys.
She birdied the par-5 No. 10 to go two-under again but dropped strokes on Nos. 11 and 13 before settling for pars for a 35-37 card that nevertheless put her in strong contention for another crack at the pro crown on the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour.
“The wind blew from all over. It was so strong that I had to make a 3-club adjustment to play it through,” rued Saso, who quickly recovered from a three-putt mishap on No. 1 with that string of birdies but fumbled with missed green bogeys and another three-putt miscue on No. 11.
Boonraksasat actually gained on a two-shot swing with a birdie on the par-5 13th as she saved an even-par card and kept Thailand’s bid for a third straight LPGT crown after Renuka Suksukont and Yupaporn Kawinpakorn swept the last two legs of the record 11-stage 2017 season at The Country Club and South Forbes, respectively.
“I played relatively good except for my putting,” said Boonraksasat, who like Saso had a two three-putt bogeys, “The greens are tricky, some are fast, some are slow.”
Wirairungreung birdied the par-5 17th late in the day to match her compatriot’s 37-35 round as the troika posted a two-stroke lead over Pauline del Rosario and another Thai Punpaka Phuntumabamrung after 18 holes of the 52-hole event kicking off the 2018 LPGT season put up by ICTSI.
“It was really tough out there with the wind. But it’s not yet over and I hope to shoot a better score tomorrow (today),” said del Rosario, fresh from claiming the LPGT Order of Merit title on a four-victory romp in her rookie season last year. She hit three birdies but made three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 4.
Thai Chonlada Chayanun, seeking to snap a string of runner-up finishes in the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., also squandered a two-under card after seven holes with a triple-bogey mishap on the eighth and a double bogey on the next. She bogeyed No. 15 but got the stroke back with a birdie on the next to shoot a 75.
Another stroke back at 76 is Thai veteran Saraporn Chamchoi and former LPGT leg winner Wannasiri Sirisampant while Pakpring Duangchan and Aunchisa Utama turned in identical 77s as the Thais took all but two of the Top 10 spots in the P750,00 event backed by Custom Clubmakers, BDO, Meralco, Sharp, KZG, PLDT, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and K&G Golf.
LPGA and Symetra Tour campaigner Dottie Ardina struggled all day and shot a birdie-less 78 for joint 11th with Princess Superal and Supakchaya Pattaranakrueng, also of Thailand, while former LPGT champion Saruttaya Ngam-usawan, also of Thailand, made a 79 and former three-time LPGT Order of Merit winner Cyna Rodriguez groped for form coming off the holiday break, shooting herself in the foot with an 80 with no birdie to show.
Other eight-over par scorers were Marvi Monsalve, Gretchen Villacencio and amateur Chanelle Avaricio.
Superal, out to atone for her so-so showing in the last two legs of the 2017 LPGT season, actually kept Saso and the two Thais in sight with an even par card on back-to-back birdies from No. 9. But the former US Girls’ Junior champion gearing up for her second Symetra Tour campaign, lost her touch and focus, dropping two strokes on the par-4 12th and holing out with a triple-bogey on the par-3 14th and bogeying the next to tumble down the leaderboard.