Min Wook Gwon toughened up at the back to salvage a 75 and keep his seven-stroke lead intact while Rianne Malixi hiked her lead to three with a brave 71 in a wind-blown third round of the National Stroke Play Championship at the Riviera Golf and Country Club in Silang, Cavite yesterday.
Playing virtually pressure-free after posting a big cushion halfway through the kickoff leg of this year’s PLDT Group National Amateur Tour, Gwon yielded a number of strokes at the front in a punishing day at Langer but preserved his four-over card with a two-birdie, two-bogey finish for a 39-36, keeping the Korean way ahead of the pack at 216.
That moved the 17-year-old Gwon 18 holes away from re-claiming the crown won by compatriot and now pro tour campaigner Kim Joo Hyung in 2018 as Japanese Atsushi Ueda stood too far behind at 223 after a 72, the best under exacting conditions in men’s division.
“Despite the wind, my game was okay. I hit good putts but had another problem on No. 8, which I double-bogeyed,” said Gwon, referring to the par-3 hole, where he made a 6 Wednesday.
Junior World titlist Aidric Chan dropped to third at 225 after a second 77 in three days while SEA Games bronze medal teammate Sean Ramos shot a 73 to gain a share of fourth at 226 with Ryan Monsalve, who stumbled with a 77.
Carl Corpus also skied to a 77 for joint sixth at 227 with Weiwei Gao, who fumbled with a 79, Davaoeño Elee Bisera carded a 75 for solo eighth at 228 and last year’s champion Gen Nagai hardly improved from two 77s with a 75 for 229 in a tie with fellow Japanese Kyosuke Yoshida, who hobbled with a 78.
Malixi, meanwhile, continued to stun the field with superb shotmaking and poise rarely seen in a 12-year-old campaigner, holing out with back-to-back birdies to save an even par card for a 214 as she padded her lead to three over Abby Arevalo, who fought back from a 38 start with birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 for a 72 and a 217.
“My shots were better than yesterday (Wednesday). I hope to sustain this kind of game tomorrow (today),” said Malixi, who actually made a butterfly on No. 16 for a double bogey.
That practically set the stage for their head-to-head duel in the final 18 holes as Laurea Duque fell 12 strokes off Malixi at 226 after a 76 for third with last year’s champion and first day leader Lois Kaye Go failed to mount a comeback with a 77 for a 227.
Junia Gabasa and Korean Kim Seo Yun matched 74s for identical 228s, Bernice Ilas recovered with a 74 for a 230, Nicole Abelar skied to an 82 for a 232, Samantha Dizon rallied with a 72 for a 233 and Eagle Ace Superal carded a 76 for a 234.
Malixi, out to match or surpass her three-title feat in the National Golf Association of the Philippines’ sanctioned tournaments last year, rebounded from a two-over start with birdies on Nos. 10 and 15. She then overcame that double-bogey miscue on the par-5 16th with birdies in the last two, frustrating Arevalo, who pulled to within one.
But the San Jose State U product and member of the SEAG gold medal winning team with Go and gold medalist and now pro Bianca Pagdanganan is expected to press her bid early in an attempt to relive her glory days at Riviera where she reigned as champion in a pro tournament on the Ladies Phl Golf Tour in 2017.