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Hot-putting propels Rianne Malixi to 2-shot lead in LPGT Luisita

Rianne Malixi continued to amaze the pro field with her brand of play rarely seen in a 14-year-old amateur, producing a second straight 71 against two fancied players to storm ahead by two in the ICTSI Luisita Ladies Championship, Wednesday in Tarlac.

She anchored her second day surge on superb putting, draining birdies from long range, including on Nos. 6 and 12 from 20 feet and on the difficult par-3 17th from around 35 feet to go two-under in a roller-coaster round that featured four other birdies against three bogeys.

Though she holed out with a bogey on the par-4 18th, Malixi’s 36-35 round proved enough to break her off from erstwhile joint second-running Princess Superal and lift her past first day leader Chanelle Avaricio with a 142 aggregate.

“I played well but it could’ve been better,” said Malixi, who moved 18 holes away from picking up from where she left off at the close of the 2021 Ladies PGT at Midlands. “I made a lot of putts, but short game-wise, it wasn’t that good compared to my first round.”

Superal played it cool and steady in tough conditions and virtually watched Malixi flash her brilliance on the greens where she groped for her touch all day. But a second straight bogey on the 17th led to a 73 and the multi-titled campaigner stayed at second but now two shots off the new leader with a 144.

“I struggled with my putting,” rued Superal, who flubbed birdie chances inside 6 feet on Nos. 5 and 6 and missed a couple of opportunities at the back. “I need to make more putts and be more consistent tomorrow.”

Avaricio, who got past Malixi and Superal with a fiery frontside charge to spike her opening 70, held sway with a 35 start but the Riviera-Couples leg champion last year blew it all in a bizarre backside collapse, limping with a 41 for a 76 that dropped her to third at 146.

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She birdied the last hole but it hardly made up for her four bogeys and a double bogey on No. 15 in the first eight holes, finding herself trailing by four instead heading to the final 18 holes of the P750,000 championship.

“I had a hard time reading my lines of the putt at the back,” said Avaricio. “Tomorrow, I need to put my ball at the right place, especially at the back-nine.”

Chihiro Ikeda also fumbled with a 75 for a 149, Riviera-Langer stage titlist Daniella Uy groped for a 79 after a 72 to tumble to joint fifth at 151 with Pamela Mariano, who bounced back with a 74 after a 77, while reigning LPGT Order of Merit winner Harmie Constantino also rebounded from a 79 with a 73 but remained too far behind at 152 for joint eighth with Korean Jane Jeong, who matched Malixi’s one-under card.

Like her pro rivals, Malixi underscored the need to stay positive in the last 18 holes and at the same time stay away from troubles on a course that punishes even the slightest of mistakes.

“Be more confident and minimize my errors,” said Malixi, who beat the same field, minus Superal, by 15 strokes to win the LPGT Midlands leg last December, in her final day gameplan. “I need to play my A-game tomorrow and finish strong.”

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