Hot start powers Zaragosa to PGT Riviera lead

    NEW LEADER: Rupert Zaragosa cashes in on an early surge to seize control.

    RUPERT Zaragosa went on an early birdie-binge to shoot a 69 an, aided by Joenard Rates’ late meltdown, took a one-shot lead over the erstwhile frontrunner and two others yesterday halfway through the rich ICTSI Riviera Invitational Challenge at the Couples course in Silang, Cavite.

    The 5-foot-2 Zaragosa came up with superb shotmaking and putting as he birdied three of the first holes then held sway in tough conditions, finishing with a two-birdie, two-bogey game the rest of the way for nines of 34-35 and a 141 total.

    “I hit it pretty good off the mound and got some good lies for approach shots,” said Zaragosa, whose opening 72 was marred by a double-bogey on No. 11, a par-5 hole that he birdied yesterday to storm ahead of the compact field in pro golf’s resumption after an eight-month break due to the pandemic.

    Aware of the expected charge of the top guns in the last two rounds, the 23-year-old Zaragosa stressed the need to play it smart to gain a crack at a first pro crown that he blew when he lost in a five-man playoff in the PGT Asia Pradera Verde last January.

    In the accompanying Ladies PGT, Princess Superal slowed down with a 72 after a 67 but stayed safely ahead by five over rookie Abby Arevalo heading to the final round of the 54-hole championship.

    After sparkling with an eagle-spiked five-under card in the first round capped by a birdie-birdie finish, Superal struggled trying to find her rhythm and range in a late tee-start, hitting just two birdies on Nos. 7 and 18 against bogeys on Nos. 1 and 15.

    But with a safe margin over Arevalo with a 139 total, the reigning OOM winner could be on her way to adding the crown to her long list of victories that have marked her winning campaign before the pandemic.

    After an impressive opening 69 in the Tour’s return under a new normal, where the pros do away with caddies and abide by the strict health and safety protocols, including wearing of face masks, the 5-foot-3 Rates scrambled to salvage a one-under card after 16 holes and hold on to the lead.

    But he fumbled with back-to-back bogeys for a 73, enabling Zaragosa to take command of the P2.5 million tournament, the first of two events put up by ICTSI to mark the PGT’s restart. The other championship is slated Dec. 8-11 at the adjacent Langer layout.