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Symetra Tour campaigner Mia Piccio birdied two of the last five holes to fire a four-under 68 and catch Korean Hwang Ye-nah at the helm as fancied Jennifer Rosales wavered and Dottie Ardina floundered at the start of the $75,000 ICTSI Ladies Open at Southlinks Golf Club in Las Piñas Wednesday.

Mia Piccio
Mia Piccio

Hwang, 21, actually sizzled at the back and early at the front in one of the early flights but blew a six-under card with a double-bogey mishap on the par-4 ninth, settling for two 34s, later matched by Piccio, who took the cudgels for the hosts after two of the local aces struggled on the par-72 layout which still proved daunting in a wind-less but rain-hit day.

Hwang Ye-nah
Hwang Ye-nah

Amateur Princess Superal also showed the kind of stuff she’s made of, rebounding from a two-over card after four holes with four birdies in an eight-hole stretch from No. 6, her backside 33 netting her a two-under 70 for joint third with American Tiffany Tavee, a playoff loser to Thai Nontaya Srisawang in Taiwan LPGA’s third leg last month, who snapped a run of pars with birdies on No. 4 and on the difficult No. 9 for a bogey-free 34-36.

Yuka Saso, the 13-year-old gem of a find and member of the ICTSI-The Country Club amateur squad, hit four birdies to buck a double-bogey and bogey mishaps for a 71 for joint fifth with Taiwanese pro Yeh Hsin-ning, who gunned down five birdies but stumbled with two bogeys and a double-bogey.

Rosales actually stayed within striking distance at 72 but not after dropping two strokes on the last four holes, hampering the two-time LPGA Tour winner’s charge that took off with birdies on Nos. 2 and 4.

Jennifer Rosales
Jennifer Rosales

“I was a bit unlucky in the closing holes. I’ll just try to bounce back tomorrow (today) and hopefully I will play better,” said Rosales, who also bogeyed No. 9 but birdied the par-3 12 before salvaging a bogey on No. 15 off the hazard and muffing a five-footer on the 18th.

Like Rosales, reigning back-to-back LPGT Order of Merit champion Cyna Rodriguez blew a three-under card with a double-bogey on No. 13 and a last-hole bogey, falling to joint seventh with Korean Kang Ji-won, Thai Muangkhumsakul Kanphanitnan, Malaysian Aretha Pan and the former five-time Philippine Ladies Open champion in the event presented by Champion Infinity and sponsored by ICTSI.

After a near-flawless game, the lead almost slipped off Hwang’s hands.

“It was too bad I made a double-bogey. I could’ve done better,” said Hwang, who lost her ball on an errant drive on No. 9 and had to re-hit off the tee.

The Dream Tour winner in Korea last year took advantage of ideal conditions and birdied No. 12 before stringing three straight from No. 18 to No. 2. She added two more on Nos. 4 and 6 but missed completing a solid round with that closing double-bogey mishap.

Piccio, who finished second to Ardina at LPGT Valley late last year, flashed superb iron play and steady putting to net five birdies, the last two inside eight feet that put her title drive in motion in the 54-hole tournament serving as the fourth leg of the Taiwan LPGA Tour and the kickoff of this year’s LPGT.

She birdied Nos. 4 and 7, added two more on Nos. 12 and 14 that sandwiched her lone bogey before drilling in two more birdies on Nos. 14 and 17 to gain a shared view of the top.

In contrast, Ardina tumbled down the leaderboard after birdying the par-4 No. 2, as she bogeyed No. 5, dropped two strokes on the eighth and fumbled with another bogey on the ninth. She never recovered her rhythm and putting touch at the back, closing out with three more bogeys and limping with a six-over 78 in her worst start on the ICTSI Ladies Philippine Golf Tour.

But Piccio proved she’s up to the task, flashing superb iron play and steady putting to net five birdies, the last two inside eight feet that put her title drive in motion in the 54-hole tournament serving as the fourth leg of the Taiwan LPGA Tour and the kickoff of this year’s LPGT.

Superal, the reigning US Girls’ Junior champion, groped for her short game in the early going and bogeyed Nos. 3 and 4 in the rain. But she settled down in time, tapping in for birdie on the sixth then birdied three of the first four holes at the back to put her in early contention.

“It was tough playing in the rain as the wind came along toward the last four holes,” said Superal, who has won two titles on the LPGA and could be in for another with a pair of solid stints in the last two rounds of the event backed by Nike, Sharp and Custom Clubmakers.

Amateurs Abby Arevalo and LK Go turned in a pair of 74s to join Singapore’s Christabel Goh, Taiwanese Huang Hsien-wen, Lee Hsin and Pan Yen-lin, Korean and former Philippine Ladies Open champion Lee Jeong-hwa.

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