Thai wrests control as Superal falters

Thai Nemittra Juntanaket hits her approach shot on No. 9

LIPA City, Batangas – Thai Nemittra Juntanaket recovered from an early mishap with a strong windup, birdying three of the last six holes to salvage a 72 and grab a two-stroke lead over Marvi Monsalve as Princess Superal hobbled at the finish at the start of the ICTSI Mt. Malarayat Ladies Classic at Mt. Malarayat’s composite course here yesterday.

Juntanaket, out to make up for her joint 18th at Pradera Verde Ladies last month, fell behind early with a triple-bogey on a lost ball on the first hole of Mt. Malipunyo but after a run of brave pars, she hit back-to-back birdies from No. 13 of Mt. Makulot then added another on the par-5 No. 16 to save a 39-33.

Thai Nemittra Juntanaket hits her approach shot on No. 9
Thai Nemittra Juntanaket hits her approach shot on No. 9

With Superal blowing a two-under round after 12 holes with a horrendous five-over card in the last six holes, Juntanaket surged ahead with Monsalve assuming the challenger’s role with a 74 she spiked with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17.

Defending champion Onkanok Soisuwan missed seizing solo second with bogeys in the last two, dropping to joint third at 75 with Superal and fellow Thais Numa Gulyanamitta and Alisara Wedchakama as most of the bidders, save for Juntanaket, floundered at Mt. Makulot tricky holes.

“Except on No. 1, my game is good. I actually struggled at the front but recovered and played good at the back,” said Juntanaket, who hopes to sustain her form and finally get a title shot in the P750,000 event put up by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.

“I’ll make sure to have a good score on No. 1 tomorrow (today) and hit the fairways and greens,” added Juntanaket, whose sister Nimmita, however, stumbled with an 80.

Monsalve, meanwhile, banked on her putting to survive a rollercoaster stint on what she described as “good and very challenging” course.

“Compared to Mt. Makulot, it was difficult to putt at Mt. Malipunyo where the greens are hard and one needs a good drop (approach) to get a good shot at birdies,” said Monsalve.

But it was a sorry finish for Superal, winner of the last LPGT leg at John Hay, who had appeared to be in control after bouncing back from a bogey on No. 2 with birdies on Nos. 5, 8 and 10. But after two pars, she bogeyed Nos. 13 and 14, dropped another stroke on the 16th and holed out with a double bogey.

“I didn’t know what happened, got confused with what to use on my second shots. My long game and putting were okay but almost all of my approach shots at the back went over,” rued Superal, who hopes to settle down on club selection in the last 36 holes.

Korean Hwang Min-Jeong, who as an amateur bested the pros here in 2015, birdied No. 18 but not after dropping strokes on Nos. 2, 3, 12 and 17 and making a double bogey on No. 9 for a 40-37 and a 77 for joint ninth with Thai Chouvarest Chourkittisopon, a stroke behind joint seventh-running Ajira and Pimpadsorn Sangkagaro, who both carded 76s, as the Thais dominated the first 18 holes of the 54-hole championship with seven in the Top 10.

The local aces groped for form in the heat and wind with Midlands leg winner Chihiro Ikeda fumbling with a 78 in a tie with comebacking Cyna Rodriguez and Gretchen Villacencio while former leg winner Sarah Ababa limped with a 79 for a share of 14th with Pamela Mariano.