STA. ROSA, Laguna – China LPGA campaigner Renuka Suksukont sizzled in the first four holes then survived a rollercoaster round to seize a one-stroke lead over Taiwanese Hanna Chen with an eagle-spiked 69 as the local aces faltered at the start of the $80,000 ICTSI Philippine Ladies Masters at The Country Club here yesterday.
Suksukont, who has posted two top three finishes in the CLPGA this season, rattled off three straight birdies from No. 2 in benign condition in morning play then bounced back from a bogey and a triple-bogey mishap in the next two holes with a birdie and an eagle on Nos. 7 and 8, respectively. The 22-year-old Thai ace then hit two more birdies against a bogey at the back for a 34-35 card.
A slew of late starters from half of the 99-player field took aim at matching or bettering Suksukont’s three-under card but all failed with Taiwanese Hanna Chen birdying Nos. 11 and 12 to fall by one at 70.
“My aim was to hit the fairways and the greens and it’s a good thing my game plan turned out well,” said Suksukont, who drained three straight birdies inside six feet to gain early control.
But she found the Tom Weiskoph-designed layout’s surface too sleek to handle in the next two holes, including the par-3 No. 6 which she missed and four-putted for a 6.
“I just couldn’t control my putt,” rued Suksukont, who struck back with a birdie on No. 7 then hacked a solid 6-iron second shot from 174 yards to within six feet for eagle on the eighth.
Earlier, Cyna Rodriguez and amateur Yuka Saso looked headed to dominating the first round action in the $80,000 event sponsored by ICTSI after the former gunned down three birdies in the first eight holes and the latter matching Renuka’s two-under 34 start in the event that drew top players from the China and Taiwan LPGA Tours and the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour.
But they stumbled at the tougher with Rodriguez, a former three-time LPGT Order of Merit winner, hobbling with a four-over card in the last four holes ruined by a double-bogey finish for a 73.
Saso, on the other hand, flubbed a couple of birdie putts and muffed a par-putt from six feet, settling for a 71 for joint third with Taiwanese Wu Yi-ching and Lee Tai-ling, Thai P. Wirairungreung and fellow amateurs Hung Jo-hua of Taiwan and Hwang Min-jeong of Korea.
Despite a shaky finish, Saso said she was more than satisfied with her opening round game and expressed confidence of a big rebound in the last 36 holes of the three-day championship co-organized by the LPGT and the China and Taiwan LPGAs.
“I played relatively good. The fairways are long and the greens are tough to read. But I had no problem with my game.” said Saso.
Another amateur Du Mohan of China put herself in early contention with a 72, leading the even-par scorers, who included Thai Numa Gulyanamitta, Hsieh Yu-ling of Taiwan, Chinese Yan Liu and Korean Na Hee Won, who missed joining Chen at second with bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16.
Chihiro Ikeda, a two-leg winner on the LPGT, recovered from a three-over card after seven holes with back-to-back birdies from No. 8 then atoned for a missed green bogey on the 16th with a rare birdie on the difficult par-4 closing holes to join Rodriguez, Korean Jang So-young, Thai Wanchana Poruangrong and Chinese Yimeng Zheng at 73.
Pauline del Rosario, the hottest local player with four victories in the last six LPGT legs, failed to get going with a poor start, driving out-of-bounds on No. 4 and finishing with four bogeys against two birdies for a 74.
She dropped to joint 20th, five strokes off Suksukont, in a tie with seven others, including Taiwanese Cheng Meng-chu and Ching Huang, Thais Pakpring Duangchan, Supakchaya Pattaranakrueang, Nanthikam Raksachat and former LPGT leg winner Wannasiri Sirisampant and former Girls’ Junior World champion Princess Superal, who stayed within striking distance of Rodriguez and Suksukont with a 35 start but stumbled with three bogeys at the back and dropped two strokes on the par-5 14th against two birdies.
Other backers of the event, serving as the 10th leg of the record 11-stage LPGT are Custom Clubmakers, BDO, Meralco, Sharp, KZG, PLDT, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and K&G Golf.