February 20, 2017, 4:30 pm
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Pagdanganan stuns elite field, leads by 2

BIANCA Pagdanganan carded a near-flawless six-under-66 in wet conditions yesterday to upstage her fancied rivals and take a two-stroke lead over Pauline del Rosario at the start of the Philippine Ladies Open Golf Championship at Wack Wack Golf and Country Club’s West Course.

Cashing in on the lift-clean-place rule, Pagdanganan rattled off three birdies at the back from where she teed off, including a chip-in from 20 yards on No. 14, and did even better at the front, gunning down four more birdies, including three-straight from No. 6.

She could have taken a three shot lead on Del Rosario if not for a bogey on the last hole that ruined what could’ve been a career-best for the 19-year-old sophomore from Gonzaga University in Washington, who struggled to finish tied for ninth in last week’s Philippine Amateur Golf Championship dominated by Yuka Saso at Riviera.

“I did not expect to hit this way as I struggled at Riviera last week,” said the sports management student. “But it all worked together for me. I was able to put my ball on spots where I wanted and my putting was just as awesome.”

But the favorites didn’t stray too far the surprise leader in the rain-hit round of the country’s premier championship presented by Champion Infinity with Del Rosario turning in a four-under 68, and Saso and Thai star Atthaya Thitikul submitting identical 70s.

Harmie Constantino, a former national champion and winner of a pro tournament last year, also put herself in the mix with a 71 while Malaysian Geradline Wong and local bet Kayla Nocum carded identical 74s and 12-year-old Annyka Cayabyab putting in a gutsy 75 to share eighth place with Singaporeans Jacqueline Young and Aloysa Atienza, Thai Tunrada Piddon and Cebu’s Lois Kaye Go.

With the weather expected to improve, Pagdanganan braces for the favorites’ charge in the last two rounds of the 54-hole championship organized and conducted by the Womens’ Golf Association of the Philippines.

“I had to play better because there are so many good players around,” said Del Rosario, the spearhead of Team The Country Club who shared runner-up honors with Saso in last year’s edition of the event won by now pro Princess Superal at Midlands.

The 18-year-old former Thailand Amateur Open champion also sizzled with five birdies against a bogey on a course that played longer than its 6,111-yardage to outgun Saso and stay in early contention contention.

“Somehow, Wack Wack is challenging with tight fairways and unreceptive greens. But it’s not all about power, which is probably my strength. So I will just try to keep the ball out of trouble,” said Del Rosario.

Saso, seeking a follow-up to her runaway victory last week, missed grabbing solo third with a last-hole bogey, her second in the day that somehow slowed down the charge of the most fancied player in the fold, who fired four birdies, spiked by a three-straight feat from No. 5.

Thitikul, only in her second tournament in the country, rued her shaky stint on the mound but bounced back from bogeys on Nos. 1 and 7 with birdies in the last two holes, preserving her backside opening 34 to share third spot with the fancied Saso.

“Conditions were a bit difficult so I have to be on the safe side. But I think it would easier to play the West with solid driving,” said the 13-year-old rising star from Ratchaburi, the reigning junior champion back home.
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