February 26, 2018, 3:27 am
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Fierce battle seen as Ladies Masters starts

CANLUBANG. — With a forecast of near-ideal wind conditions in the next three days, fans can expect a furious battle among the stars of three of the region’s leading circuits in Thursday start of the rich ICTSI Philippine Ladies Masters at The Country Club here.

“Winds not so strong, just around 13km/hour and I think it will be the same the whole week,” said Colo Ventosa, general manager of the organizing Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., on the eve of the $80,000 tournament featuring 99 top players from the China LPGA, Taiwan LPGA and the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour.

That should give the big hitters some kind of an edge with the par-72, 6882-yard layout playing soft and long although it could also boil down to putting in the final day with the course’s last line of defense tipped to challenge even the steadiest players in the fold.

Rookie pro Pauline del Rosario and multi-titled amateur Yuka Saso, who have spent the last few weeks training in this well-maintained but demanding course, said a 6- to 10-under total could win it without the dreaded winds.

“Otherwise, a 3- to 5-under could do it,” said Del Rosario, the hottest among the locals with four victories in the last six legs of the LPGT.

The 18-year-old former amateur hotshot also became the first Filipina to win a leg on the Taiwan LPGA when she rallied from seven down in the final day to edge TLPGA top player Yu Ju Chen by one last September.

The long-hitting Saso is a many-time national champion who also won the individual crown and led the Philippines to the World Junior Girls team championship in Canada in 2016.

But they admit it will be an uphill battle and a test of will and character, citing the depth of the field, all in pursuit of the top purse of $12,000 in the 54-hole championship sponsored by ICTSI and co-organized by the CLPGA, TLPGA and the LPGT.

They expect the likes of CLPGA campaigners Michelle Koh of Malaysia, Taiwan’s Rebecca Tsai and Yeh Hsin-ning, Chines Tao Juanjuan and Jiayi Zhou and the crack Thai group of Ploychompoo Wirairungrueng, Saraporn Chamchoi, Kusuma Meechai, Tiranan Yoopan, Mookharin Ladgratok, Supakchaya Pattaranakrueang and TLPGA mainstays Ai-Chen Kuo, Tzu-Chi Lin, Ching Huang, Hsuan-Ping Chang, Hanna Chen, Chen Meng-chu, Hsieh Yu-ling and Lee Chia-pei to figure prominently in the title hunt.

Del Rosario drew Thai Yupaporn Kawinpakorn and Taiwanese Kuo Ai-chen in the 8:10 a.m. flight on No. 1 after the 8 a.m. group of Saso, Korean Na Hee Won and fancied Thai Renuka Suksukont.

Focus will also be on former World Junior Girls champion and Symetra Tour campaigner Princess Superal, who is also due for a big win after a string of so-so finishes in the season about to end, along with former LPGA Tour campaigner and three-time LPGT Order of Merit winner Cyna Rodriguez.

“With a number of strong Taiwanese and Chinese players, it will really be tough but I expect to contend,” said Superal, now a bit confident with a new swing technique drawn up by coach Bong Lopez.

She added that the LPGT tie-up with the two big circuits is a big boost to local golf, saying: “This kind of field will surely raise the level of the game here and there would be no need for the local players to campaign abroad.”

Superal is paired with Thai Nattagate Nimitpongkul and Yeh Hsin-ning of Taiwan at 7:50 a.m., also on the first hole, after the 7:40 a.m. group of the long-hitting Rodriguez, Chinese Liu Yan and Wirairungrueng in the event backed by Custom Clubmakers, BDO, Meralco, Sharp, KZG, PLDT, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and K&G Golf.
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