Laguna—Sung Hyun Park backed her esteemed world No. 1 ranking with a kind of start rarely achieved on an exacting course like The Country Club then held sway in windy conditions at the back to shoot a three-under 69 for a two-stroke lead over amateur Yuka Saso and Taiwanese Wu Hsiao-Ling and Lin Tzu-Chi at the start of the TCC Ladies Invitational here in Sta. Rosa yesterday.
With a huge gallery, that included a host of foreign media, Korean fans and local enthusiasts, Park put her near-flawless shotmaking and iron play on display in the first nine holes, producing three birdies and oohs and ahhs from the crowd before slowing down with a two-birdie, two-bogey effort in the last nine holes for a 33-36 card.
“I didn’t expect to play this well. I know that the course is hard but I also know that I could do better in the second round,” said Park, who hit an errant tee-shot on the long par-3 11th and three putted No. 15 for her bogeys in her first tournament after claiming the world’s top ranking Tuesday. She also flubbed at least three makeable birdie putts on the surface that proved not as fast as the field expected it to be.
Though her backside stint left so much to be desired from a player of her caliber, it still proved enough to put her on top of the $100,000 event she’s expected to dominate although Saso likewise lived up to the pre-tournament hype with a 71 behind a strong finish that should further impressed the most fancied player in the fold.
The Asian Games gold medalist actually failed to shake off jitters playing against Park and Dottie Ardina, dropping a stroke on the first hole. But after a run of pars, the recent Philippine Amateur Ladies Open winner birdied the 10th and gunned down another birdie on the 16th to get back into early contention in the 54-hole championship serving as the third leg of LPGA of Taiwan (TLPGA) and fifth stop of the 2018-19 Ladies Philippine Golf Tour put up by ICTSI.
“She (Saso) hits it long for an amateur. I see I bright future in her,” said Park, who also took notice of Ardina’s game which she described as great if not for a shaky windup.
Ardina actually battled back from three strokes down to tie Park at two-under with a birdie-birdie feat from No. 11, capped by a two-shot swing on the long par-3 11th after Park stumbled with her first bogey. That sparked hopes for a big finish for the Filipina LPGA campaigner, who, however, fell off the leaderboard with bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16, enabling Saso and the Taiwanese duo to move to joint second.
“Long hitters have the edge here. Park and Yuka both hit it long but if I could have their length, I’m sure I will be hard to beat,” said the diminutive but talented Ardina.
Wu fired four birdies against three bogeys in morning play while Lin birdied No. 17 to turn in one of the late 36-35 cards to force a three-way tie for second.
Ardina slipped to joint fifth at 72 with Korean Park Jin Hee and local amateur Sunshine Baraquiel while former LPGT Order of Merit winner Pauline del Rosario blew a two-under card with three bogeys in the last seven holes to tumbled to eighth at 73 with Taiwanese Huang Pei-Wen, Thais Wannasiri Sirisampant and Wad Phaewhchimplee and local ace Princess Superal.
After mixing two birdies against the same number of bogeys at the front, Superal also got into the mix with a birdie on No. 12 but bogeyed the next three before birdying No. 16 to salvage a 36-37.
Action is expected to heat up in today’s (Thursday) second round with a switch in tee times with Park, Saso and Ardina slugging it out again at 7:25 a.m. at the back where the Korean ace is expected to make up for her mediocre finish yesterday.
The top 60 plus ties after 36 holes will advance to the last 18 holes of the tournament backed by Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, K&G Golf Apparel, BDO, Sharp, KZG, PLDT, Empire Golf and Sports and M.Y. Shokai Technology, Inc.
Taiwan’s Hsuan Chen and Hsin Lee, Thais Chonlada Chayanun, Chakansim Khamborn, Goonlacha Paiboonpong and Trichat Cheenglab and Korean Ye Nah Hwang, another former two-time LPGT titlist, and Daniella Uy carded identical 74s.