RIANNE MALIXI birdied four of the last eight holes to rescue a one-under 72 but still fell by four strokes behind China’s Alice Zhao and the US’s Sophie Stevens at the start of the Annika Invitational in Orlando, Florida, Sunday.
Malixi produced a pair of back-to-back birdie feats on Nos. 11 and 16 as she battled back from a three-over card marred by a double bogey on No. 4 and a bogey on the 10th of the par-73 Eagle Creek Golf Club to salvage a 38-34 round and join nine others at 13th place with two rounds left in the second leg of this year’s American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) circuit.
Zhao, 13, came away with a bogey-free five-under 68 while Stevens shot six birdies against a bogey as they wrested a one-stroke lead over Italy’s Francesca Fiorellini, and Vanessa Borovilos, Ashleen Kaur and Kati Li of the US, who matched 69s in cold conditions.
Lauren Kim of Canada and Czech Denisa Vodickova stood at joint seventh with 70s.
The AJGA top guns likewise put themselves in early contention with No. 1 Gianna Clemente, who became only the second player in history to qualify into three consecutive Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour events last year, shooting a 71 for a share of ninth with three others, including fellow American Yana Wilson, who foiled her in last year’s US Girls’ Junior finals.
Other two-under par scorers were Michelle Liu and Macy Pate.
Malixi, whose campaign is backed by the International Container Terminal Services Inc., chipped way past the first hole but returned an eight-footer for par, made a routine par on the second and missed a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 3. She then struggled on the long 528-yard par-5 No. 4, missing the green and chipping short to end up with a double bogey.
She two-putted for par on the par-3 fifth, scrambled for another par on the next before yielding a stroke on the seventh. After another par, she birdied the par-5 No. 9 from six feet then recovered from another miscue on No. 10 with birdies on the next two holes.
After three pars, she picked up another stroke on the par-5 16th then drained a long putt for another birdie on the next to spike her comeback.
The 15-year-old Filipina hopes to ride on her strong finish when she mixes it up with Martina Yu of Canada and American Avery McCrery at 10 a.m., also on No. 1, in Monday’s second round, seeking to gain on the leaders and give herself a crack at the championship.
Yu and McCrery also matched Malixi’s 72, along with Angela Liu, Katelyn Huber, Sara Im and Molly Smith of the US, Matylda Krawczynska of Poland, Japanese Nika Ito and Thai Thanana Kotchasanmanee, who beat Malixi in the Citrus Golf Trail Championship, also in Florida, three weeks ago.