Unheralded Gretchen Villacencio put in a career-best three-under 69 and found herself a bewildered leader, one stroke ahead of fancied Princess Superal and Korean amateur Kim Hee Ji at the start of the ICTSI Riviera Ladies Classic at Riviera’s Couples course in Silang, Cavite on Wednesday.
Villacencio, whose best finish after five legs of this year’s Ladies Philippine Golf Tour was 12th at Beverly Place in Pampanga last January, flashed superb form off the mound, with her iron play and putting as she produced five birdies against two bogeys for a 34-35 card.
She also credited her strong start to a couple of lucky shots and a caddie who backed her up from start to finish.
“I was just lucky, had some tough shots that I saved,” said Villacencio, who turned pro just late last year upon the prodding of father and one-time PGT leg winner Arnold, who also acted as her caddie. “He was very supportive and helped inspire me to play this good.”
But lurking behind and ready to pounce is Superal, who sandwiched her bogeys on Nos. 8 and 11 with birdies on the sixth, ninth, 10th and 12th for a 70 that put her on track for a second straight LPGT crown after a record-setting 16-shot romp at Tagaytay Highlands last week.
“I hope I can continue my good game tomorrow (today). I’m confident and looking forward to scoring back-to-back wins,” said Superal, priming up for the resumption of her Symetra Tour campaign in the US early next month.
Kim matched Superal’s two-under card to likewise stay in the early hunt for top honors in the sixth leg of the circuit sponsored by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. with the young Korean spiking her 35-35 round with an eagle on the par-5 No. 7. She also birdied Nos. 2, 12 and 16 to negate her bogeys on Nos. 4, 8 and 15.
Another amateur, Missy Legaspi, stood a shot farther back at 71, anchoring her bid with two birdies in the last three holes, while Korean amateur Bang Choeun blew a two-under card with bogeys in the last two holes for a 72 for joint fifth with former three-time Order of Merit winner Cyna Rodriguez, who bogeyed the par-3 17th.
Marvin Monsalve carded a 75 while Eagle Ridge leg champion Chihiro Ikeda and former leg winner Sarah Ababa struggled with four-over 76s and fell seven strokes off the pace.
Hwang Min-jeong, the tall Korean amateur who dominated the Philippine Amateur Open here last January, fumbled in the early going, failing to recover from a four-over start after six holes to join Ikeda and Ababa at eighth while Thai Amolkan Phalajivin and amateurs Mafy Singson of The Country Club and Korean Lisa Kang hobbled with identical 77s and fell eight shots off the surprise leader in the 54-hole championship backed by Custom Clubmakers, BDO, Meralco, Sharp, KZGm PLDT, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and K&G Golf.
Villacencio, who limped and finished at 20th at Highlands, birdied the par-5 second and bounced back strong from a bogey mishap on the fifth with birdies on Nos. 6, 9 and 11 to wrest early control. She dropped a stroke on the par-5 16th but recovered quickly with another short birdie putt on the next to get past Superal and Kim.