Back on the winning track, Chihiro Ikeda hopes to bring her act to Laurel, Batangas next week for a crack at a second straight Ladies Philippine Golf Tour crown in the ICTSI Splendido Taal Challenge, which gets going Tuesday (May 24) at Splendido Taal Golf Club.
Ikeda used a big frontside run spiked by an eagle feat then scrambled at the finish to save a 72 and beat Chanelle Avaricio by three in the ICTSI Mount Malarayat Ladies Challenge in Lipa City two weeks ago for her first victory since edging Pauline del Rosario in sudden death at ICTSI Midlands Challenge in 2019.
“While the victory removed all doubt as to whether I could win again, it will be a lot tougher to make it two-in-row given the level of the (playing) field and the terrors lurking on every corner of Splendido,” said Ikeda, whose campaign is backed by AsiaGlobal Technologies and Manila Southwoods.
Korean Hwang Min Jeong nipped Princess Superal by one to win the last LPGT event at Splendido in 2019 with the same tight finish expected in the upcoming 54-hole tournament serving as the fifth leg of this year’s circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Avaricio, for one, is raring not only to get back at Ikeda but also get back in the groove after being denied a third straight championship following a playoff victory over Superal at Hallow Ridge and a one-stroke triumph over Ikeda at Caliraya.
A slew of others are also gearing up for the Splendido battle, including reigning Order of Merit winner Harmie Constantino, who won two legs in her LPGT debut last year but has missed earning a clear stab at a third crown in her succeeding tournaments.
She led in the first round at Mt. Malarayat but fumbled in the next and ended up third.
Midlands leg winner Sunshine Baraquiel also hopes to sustain her big finish at Malarayat that saw her post the tournament-best 68 in the final round to salvage joint fourth with Pamela Mariano and Gretchen Villacencio.
Mariano was also a revelation the last time out, crowding Ikeda and Constantino in the first 36 holes before the Cagayan de Oro native lost steam in the stretch run.
Brand-new pros Martina Miñoza and Lesley Icoy, who made the grade at Malarayat, are also tipped to contend, along with Marvi Monsalve, Lovelyn Guioguio, Sarah Ababa, Eva Miñoza, Sheryl Villacencio, Lucy Landicho, and Kristine Fleetwood.
But nobody comes into the Splendido leg with as much confidence as Ikeda, who has stepped up her buildup with daily training at Southwoods under swing coach Bong Lopez in anticipation of a challenging campaign next week.
“I’m currently working on my short game and putting,” said Ikeda, adding that ball control will also be key at the long, wind-raked Splendido course.