Rianne Malixi put up a scorching frontside charge before slowing down at the back, posting a four-under 67 to trail Jaclyn LaHa by one at the start of the Albane Valenzuela Girls Invitational at the Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona Friday.
Fresh from delivering the bronze medal for Team Philippines in the recent SEA Games in Vietnam, the 15-year-old Filipina rising star birdied four of the last five holes at the front for a 31 but settled for a one-birdie, one-bogey game while missing a couple of chances at the back.
But it proved enough to put her in early contention for a second American Junior Golf Association crown after winning the Thunderbird All Star title last April in Phoenix.
The ICTSI-backed shotmaker is also out for redemption at the par-71 Longbow layout where she blew a four-stroke lead in the final round and lost the PING Heather Classic, also last April.
LaHa also sizzled at the front of the 35-36 layout with a 32 then birdied two of the last four holes to seize control in the 54-hole tournament with 67 with Chloe Lam and Alice Zhao matching Malixi’s four-under card.
But a host of others stood just a stroke or two behind, guaranteeing a fierce battle for top honors in the last two rounds of the event which features some of the world’s leading and rising junior players aiming to get scholarships to various US schools.
Malixi, who struggled in individual play but rose to the occasion in team competition in the SEAG to avert a medal shutout in golf in Hanoi, hopes to sustain her charge when she tees off with Bridget Ma and Yurang Li at 7 a.m. at Longbow’s backside.
LaHa, on the other hand, will start at 8:50 a.m. with Sophie Zhang-Murphy and Karen Tsuru,a lso on No. 10.