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LPGT: Ace steers Harmie Constantino to 1-shot Malarayat lead

Harmie Constantino aced No. 8 to spike a solid 32 start at Mt. Malipunyo but hobbled with two bogeys at Mt. Lobo for a 70, barely saving a one-stroke lead over Chihiro Ikeda and Marvi Monsalve at the start of the ICTSI Mount Malarayat Ladies Challenge in Lipa, Batangas, Wednesday.

Hard-pressed to snap a long title spell on a course where she won as an amateur over a foreign-laced pro field in 2016, Constantino delivered, setting in explosive motion her title drive with birdies on Nos. 1 and 5 before scoring a hole-in-one on the 118-yard No. 8 of Mount Malarayat’s composite 27-hole layout.

But she dropped a stroke on the next par-3, No. 11 of Mt. Lobo, and the reigning Ladies Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit champion yielded another shot on the 15th as she struggled to try to recall her form in scorching heat and buck the undulating Malarayat surface.

“It wasn’t that good. I hit a lot of greens but missed a lot of birdie putts. I wasn’t also able to save a few par putts,” rued Constantino, referring to her muffed chances at the back for a 38.

“But overall it was okay,” added Constantino, who used a pitching wedge and Titleist No. 2 ball in hitting her whopping eighth career ace, who netted her P20,000 from ICTSI, which awards the prize for the first ace in the season for both the LPGT and PGT, and P10,000 worth of products from the host club. “But I think I could’ve done better.”

While Constantino nearly blew it all at Mt. Lobo, flightmate Ikeda flourished, working her way back from six down with a birdie on No. 10 and an eagle on the par-5 13th off a solid drive and a superb rescue shot from 212 yards that landed 10 feet off the cup.

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The multi-titled campaigner, who last won at Midlands via playoff over Pauline del Rosario, missed forcing a tie with a flubbed birdie putt from six feet on the closing par-5 hole for a 38-33.

Monsalve, on the other hand, rebounded strong from bogeys on Nos. 3 and 6 with back-to-back birdies from No. 8. She bogeyed No. 14 but fought back with two more birdies on the next three holes then holed out with a birdie to negate a bogey mishap on the 17th for a 36-35 and fuel her bid for a maiden championship in the circuit put up by ICTSI.

“I played steady and was consistent with my drives,” said Monsalve. “Though I missed some fairways, I was able to save some putts although I missed a couple of up-and-downs.”

Constantino’s backside meltdown also enabled a slew of others to pull within striking distance with Chanelle Avaricio, back-to-back winner at Hallow Ridge and Caliraya, failing to sustain a two-birdie, one-bogey card after five holes with bogeys on Nos. 9 and 10 for a 73.

She slipped to joint fourth with Pamela Mariano, who birdied the last to salvage a 37-36.

But a 20-year-old amateur from talent-rich Del Monte and niece of a living legend could provide the biggest surprise in the week as Martina Miñoza turned in a 74 in her first foray on the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour.

She hit four birdies but made six bogeys in an otherwise impressive start for a young lass bidding to qualify in the country’s premier ladies circuit on her first try.

Gretchen Villacencio, who calls the J. Michael Poellet-designed layout where each hole varies in character home, also stayed within striking distance with a one-over card with two holes left. But she double-bogeyed the 17th and dropped to seventh at 75 while Midlands leg winner Sunshine Baraquiel blew a 37 start with two double bogeys against a birdie at the back and tumbled to joint eight at 76 with amateur Eagle Ace Superal.

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Arnie Taguines, the other amateur from Team ICTSI, chipped in for eagle on the 18th but the late feat could only lift her to joint 10th with Lovelyn Guioguio at 77.

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