Mookharin Ladgratok bucked a late start with a late burst at the front, firing a three-under 69 in tough condition to move on top of the stellar field, one stroke ahead of Kanpah-nitnan Muanghkumaskul as the Thais took charge and the local bets faltered in the opener of the ICTSI Champion Tour presented by Champion and Taiwan LPGA at Splendido Taal Golf Club in Tagaytay on Wednesday.
Ladgratok checked a roller-coaster ride with two birdies in the last four holes at the frontside of the windswept layout and came out of the grueling stint in scorching heat with a 33-36 card in the last of the 22 flights that teed off in the $75,000 tournament serving as the kickoff leg of this year’s ICTSI Ladies Philippine Golf Tour and the fifth stage of the Taiwan LPGA Tour sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
“I didn’t expect to lead. I just played my game and tried to make the most of my chances,” said the 21-year-old Ladgratok, out to atone for her second round meltdown in last year’s LPGT final leg at Southwoods where she fumbled with a 75 after a lead-grabbing 66 in the first round and ended up joint third.
But the four-year pro, who mixed three birdies with the same number of bogeys at the back before hitting two birdies against a bogey in five holes at the front, expects the going to get tougher and the chase for the top $15,000 purse to get tighter in the last two days with Muangh-kumaskul, winner of this year’s Taiwan LPGA Tour first leg, launching her bid for No. 2 with a 70 that featured five birdies and marred by a double-bogey and a bogey.
Taiwanese Chen Yu-ju actually set the pace with an impressive 33 at the front and a four-under card at 13 holes. But the No. 10 player in the current TLPGA Order of Merit ranking reeled back with a double-bogey on the next, hit a birdie on No. 15 but bogeyed two of the last three for a 38 for solo third at 71.
An ailing Dottie Ardina and amateur Princess Superal took the cudgels for the hosts as they matched par 72s for joint fourth with former Philippine Ladies Open winner Lee Jeong-hwa of Korea, Japanese Fumika Kawagishi, and Taiwanese Shih Huei-ju, Chen Minjou, Rebecca Tsai and Yeh Hsin-ning.
The Filipina golfers failed to cash in on the so-called home-court edge and even struggled on the unreceptive, unpredictable surface with Ardina, bothered by colds and coughs, flubbing at least two from short distance. The Symetra Tour campaigner, winner of at least three LPGT events, had a fine start of 35 but stumbled with bogeys on Nos. 12 and 14 and needed to birdie the par-3 17th to salvage a 72.
“I had a number of birdie opportunities but hardly knew the speed of the greens since I didn’t have any practice rounds,” said Ardina, who, however, remained confident of a big comeback in the last two rounds of the tournament organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by adidas, Custom Clubmakers, KZG, TaylorMade, Champion, Summit Natural Drinking Water, Pacsports, Sharp and Rustans Supermarket.
Superal, winner of two pro tournaments, also rallied with back-to-back birdies from No. 11, negating her missed green bogeys on Nos. 1 and 6. But the top The Country Club, who came into this event riding the crest of a seven-win run here and abroad, misread a couple of birdie putts and settled for a 34 and a 72.
Mia Piccio, also a Symetra Tour campaigner, also fought back birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 to save a 73 and join Fil-Jap amateur Yuka Saso, pro-am winner Huang Hsien-wen and Yu Pei-lin of Taiwan, Thai Chorphaka and Jaengkit and Koreans Kang Ji-won and Hwang Ye-nah, winner of last year’s ICTSI Ladies Open.
Malaysian Aretha Pan, Taiwan’s Weng Liting, Japanese Mayumi Chinzei and TCC’s Kayla Nocum carded identical 74s while Korea Grace Lee and Thai Saranporn Langkulgasettrin hobbled with 75s.
LPGA Tour campaigner Cyna Rodriguez also started out on the wrong foot, making three bogeys and a double bogey before holing out with a birdie for a 76 in a tie with Chihiro Ikeda, Japanese Senno Yasufuku, Lee Tai-Ling of Taiwan and Korean Gu Na-eun, seven strokes off Ladgratok.