Pressed by a slew of rivals on their homeward trip at the front, Renuka Suksukont of Thailand closed out with three straight birdies in stirring fashion for a 70 and pulled away by four heading to the final round of the rich ICTSI Philippine Ladies Masters in Sta. Rosa, Laguna on Friday.
That sizzling windup in overcast skies put Suksukont back into the lead at 139 after Chihiro Ikeda stormed ahead at three-under overall before yielding on back-to-back bogeys from No. 6 in a wild second round that saw two other Thais mount a charge and the rest of the local aces bow out of the title race.
The lead was up for grabs until Suksukont came through with that brilliant finish.
Ikeda blew a sterling four-under card with those late miscues and settled for a 70, dropping to joint second at 143 with Wanchana Poruangrong, who also carded a 70, and Chonlada Chayanun, who came through with a bogey-free 68, a rare feat on a course which punishes even the slightest of mistakes.
After birdying the par-5 10th for the second straight day and racking up seventh straight pars, Suksukont bogeyed three of the next four holes to slip off the leaderboard. But she recovered her touch in time, birdying No. 5 from close range then holing out with three straight birdies to regain a huge lead.
Amateurs Hwang Min-jeong of Korea and Hung Jo-hua of Taiwan carded identical 73s and shared fifth place with Chinese Liu Yan and Taiwanese Yu W-ching, who turned in a 72 and 73, respectively, at 144, five strokes off the leader heading to the final 18 holes of the event co-sanctioned by the China and Taiwan LPGA and Ladies Philippine Golf Tour.
Zhang Lienalin of China rallied with a 69 to tie Taiwan’s Lee Tai-ling, who fumbled with a 74, at 145 while the rest, including amateur Yuka Saso, Pauline del Rosario, Cyna Rodriguez and Princess Superal, lay too far behind with over-par scores and out of the hunt for the top $12,000 purse in the 54-hole championship sponsored by ICTSI.
Del Rosario made a late charge at the front with birdies on Nos. 5 and 6 but reeled back with a double bogey on the next before ramming an eagle on the par-5 8th for a second 74. She stood at joint 22nd with five others, including Saso, at 148.
Saso, the best-placed Filipina at joint third with a 71 in the first round, fought back with back-to-back birdies from No. 13 after bogeying the first three holes at the back, only to fall back again with a bogey on No. 17 and a double-bogey on the par-4 first hole. She birdied No. 5 but bogeyed two of the last three holes for a 77.
Rodriguez, who shot a 73 in the first round, never recovered from a disastrous triple-bogey 8 on the par-4 10th and limped with a 78 and out of the race at 151 in the circuit which she dominated for three years before moving to Symetra and LPGA Tours.
Superal, the former US Girls’ Junior champion and winner of a number of LPGT tournament both as an amateur and a pro, hit two birdies but slipped with five bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 4 where she drove out-of-bounds. She wound up with a 77 and fell to Rodriguez’s group at seven-over overall.
That leaves Ikeda as the lone local bet with a crack at the crown with the Fil-Japanese vowing to go flat out and foil Suksukont and the two other Thais in what promises to be a fierce 18-hole showdown.
“It’s a tall order but no lead is safe here at TCC. I’ll do my best to get a good start and let’s see what happens,” said Ikeda.
Other backers of the event, serving as the 10th leg of the record 11-stage LPGT are Custom Clubmakers, BDO, Meralco, Sharp, KZG, PLDT, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and K&G Golf.