Ababa up; Miñoza, Engino share lead


SARAH ABABA churned out a near-impeccable one-under 69 round in tough conditions for a huge four-stroke cushion over Chanelle Avaricio and two others at the start of the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) Negros Occidental Golf Classic presented by MORE Power on Wednesday.

That she hit all the fairways and greens spoke well of the preparations and mindset of the player who last won on the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour (LPGT) at Sherwood Hills in 2015 and the shotmaker from the talented golfing clan from Davao could be on her way to ending the long spell with a sustained charge in the next two days.

“I think I hit all the fairways and also 14 greens,” said Ababa, whose superb round netted her birdies on Nos. 2 and 14 against a bogey on the 11th for the lone under-par card in the day of floundering fortunes.

“I’ll just stay patient. The greens are hard to read, you need to match the speed and allowance,” added Ababa, who honed and sharpened her skills for the resumption of the circuit at South Pacific Golf and Leisure Club in Davao and at Orchard Golf and Country Club in Cavite.

Avaricio, winner of three LPGT legs last year who also toughened up in the US and Thailand tours, kept Ababa within sight in a separate flight but double-bogeyed the par-four 17th and finished with a 73, enabling Harmie Constantino and Danielly Uy to tie her at second.

Constantino, who foiled Avaricio’s back-to-back title bid at Pradera Verde then won the inaugural ICTSI Match Play Invitational at Villamor late last year, also preserved a one-over card after 15 holes. But like Avaricio, she wavered at the finish, bogeying Nos. 16 and 18 for a similar 36-37 card, while Uy, who scored a breakthrough in wicked conditions at Riviera-Langer in 2021, birdied the 16th but holed out with a bogey for a 73.

“Mostly, everything was tough—wind and the greens—and had unlucky bounces on the fairways,” said Avaricio, who nevertheless remained upbeat of her chances with 36 holes remaining in the P875,000 event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments Inc.

“I’ll try to keep my drives on the fairway and my iron shots just around the green for easy up-and-down tomorrow (Thursday),” she added.

Despite her flawed finish on the par-5 18th, Uy said: “My round today is better than I expected because the course is narrow and playing long. But I hope to hit the fairways and make a lot of putts tomorrow (Thursday) and just be calm and try not to be too excited.”

Top amateur Rianne Malixi, meanwhile, groped for form in her first foray at Marapara, going four-over after three holes and spending the rest of the day trying to regain the form that netted her LPGT victories at Luisita, Valley and Riviera last year. She wound up with a 78.

“My challenge was I couldn’t execute the shots that I wanted to hit and I missed spots that I was not supposed to miss. Those gave me a hard time to recover and kind of like scramble for par,” rued the 16-year-old ace, who placed fourth in the Queen Sirikit Cup at Southwoods and tied for 13th finish in the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship in Singapore the last two weeks.

That led to five more bogeys although she snapped the slump with a birdie on No. 17 and a scrambling par on the last.

“But then I think I made good the last two holes. I started off like really rough, 4-over after three holes and 6-over going to No. 8. Nakuha ko naman sa last two holes, so hopefully, I’ll bring that tomorrow,” she added. “Pag-iisipan ko ang game-plan ko but I’ll change some of my strategies.”

Nine strokes behind at joint 11th, expect the two-time American Junior Golf Association leg winner to bounce back, along with reigning Order of Merit winner Chihiro Ikeda and Thai Ladies Professional Golfers Association (LPGA) Tour and LPGA of Taiwan Tour veteran Marvi Monsalve, who also posted 78s.

Meanwhile, Florence Bisera and Pamela Mariano shared fifth place with 75s, amateur Laurea Duque and Gretchen Villacencio both carded 76s, and Sunshine Baraquiel and Rev Alcantara matched 77s.

Like Malixi, the comebacking pair of Mia Piccio and Cyna Rodriquez sputtered with 80 and 89, respectively, while Mafy Singson, the other amateur in the fold who also saw action in the Queen Sirikit Cup and WAAP, also limped with an 81.

Image credits: Nonie Reyes

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