Korean holds off hot Superal, takes 2-shot lead

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Korean Hwang Ye-nah dispatched Mia Piccio with a solid start then matched amateur Princess Superal’s six-under 66 to wrest a two-stroke lead over the reigning US Girls Junior champion as the rest reeled back with over-par scores in the second round of the rich ICTSI Ladies Open at Southlinks Golf Club Thursday.

Hwang birdied the opening hole and rattled off four straight birdies from No. 3 to drop erstwhile joint leader Piccio then added two more birdies at the back to negate a lone bogey mishap on No. 10, seizing the solo lead at 10-under 134 with 18 holes left in the $75,000 event serving as the kickoff leg of the ICTSI Ladies Philippine Golf Tour and fourth stage of the Taiwan LPGA.

Korean Hwang Ye-nah chips onto the green on No. 9.
Korean Hwang Ye-nah chips onto the green on No. 9.

Kanphanitnan Muangkhumsakul actually shot a three-under 69 but the Thai bet stood seven strokes off Hwang at 141 for third, virtually yielding the top $15,000 purse to the 21-year-old Korean as Superal, just two down at 136, isn’t qualified for the money purse.

“I want to win,” said Hwang, who banked on her solid iron game and putting to piece together two superb rounds on the dreaded tight, hazard-laden layout that took the fight out of a number of fancied bets in the event presented by Champion Infinity and sponsored by ICTSI.

Piccio, impressive with a lead-sharing 68 in the first round, stayed in the hunt with two birdies after six holes, but lost her rhythm and focus after a bogey on the seventh. She parred the next two but stumbled with a double-bogey on No. 10, dropped another stroke on the next and made another bogey on No. 15.

“I was really off,” rued Piccio, who did hole out with a birdie but hardly bounced back into contention, her 74 dropping her to fourth at 142, now eight shots adrift.

Yuka Saso, the other ace amateur from the ICTSI-The Country Club stable, fought back from a wobbly 39 start with three birdies in the last six holes and salvaged a 72 for a 143, while Cyna Rodriguez, who dominated the first two years of the LPGT, failed to rebound from a mediocre 72 start and hobbled with a 73 for a 145.

Dottie Ardina, a Symetra Tour campaigner like Piccio, hardly recovered from a disastrous 78 start with a 75 for a 153, in a tie with Jennifer Rosales, the pre-tournament favorite owing to her LPGA experience, who shot herself in the foot with an uncharacteristic 81 from a double-bogey riddled backside of 44.

But despite the local aces’ spill, Superal continued to have a good feel on Southlinks’ putting surface, putting in the lone bogey-free card on a daunting course where a bogey is virtually a norm.

Princess Superal attacks the long par-4 No. 11 with a 3-wood for her approach shot.
Princess Superal attacks the long par-4 No. 11 with a 3-wood for her approach shot.

“Putting was the difference. I had a good feel on the greens all day,” said the 18-year-old Superal, who made just 23 putts, including three par-saves inside seven feet.

One flight ahead of Hwang, Superal strung up three straight birdies first from No. 3 from long range, knocked in a pitch-in birdie from 15 yards on the seventh then drained putts from 14 feet and eight feet on Nos. 13 and 18, respectively.

“She’s been hitting it quite solid overall but it will boil down to putting although she has to find the fairway first, which is the key to low scoring at Southlinks,” said swing coach Bong Lopez of his prized ward gearing up for a big final round showdown with Hwang in the event backed by Nike, Sharp and Custom Clubmakers.

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