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LPGT: Constantino, Malixi match 74s in tough Valley Golf conditions

Harmie Constantino thrived on the par-5 No. 17 to salvage a two-over 74 and catch amateur hotshot Rianne Malixi at the helm, just a stroke ahead of Marvi Monsalve at the start of the ICTSI Valley Golf Challenge in Antipolo on Wednesday.

Constantino and Malixi took charge at the end of a punishing day where the lead routinely changed hands in furnace-like conditions at Valley South. The former endured a pair of back-to-back bogey mishaps from Nos. 1 and 14 with two birdies, the last on the penultimate hole that saved her a pair of 37s.

“I played okay but I could have played better since there were a lot of putts that I could’ve made, and a lot of up-and-downs that I could’ve saved,” said Constantino, who also flubbed a couple of birdie chances from close range.

Malixi, toughened up by a three-month stint in the US, held her ground against the two-time Ladies Philippine Golf Tour winner and last year’s Order of Merit champion in one of the featured flights. She even looked headed to wrest early control with a bogey-birdie card after four holes.

Unfortunately, though, she holed out with a double-bogey on the par-5 No. 5. Then she negated a birdie on the ninth with a missed green bogey on the 15th. That dropped her to joint lead instead, also with a couple of 37s.

“Not good,” said Malixi when asked to describe her round, ruing her day-long struggle with her irons.

“My iron game wasn’t that good and it could’ve been better. I wasn’t able to convert some putts, didn’t make those that mattered,” said the 15-year-old rising star.

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“I’ll just play my relaxed game tomorrow (today) and not put pressure on myself,” she added.

Monsalve missed forcing a three-way tie in the early going of the P750,000 tournament with a flubbed par-putt on the challenging par-3 closing hole. but her 75 put her on track for a crack at a breakthrough win in the tour put up by ICTSI.

Chihiro Ikeda, winner of the Eagle Ridge Aoki leg last July before the Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.-organized circuit took a two-month break, also birdied the 17th but her 76 dropped her two strokes off the joint leaders in a tie with Sarah Ababa, who actually tied Malixi and Constantino at one-over with a birdie on No. 12.

But the one-time LPGT winner at Sherwood in 2015, who finished second to Ikeda at Aoki, dropped three strokes on the tough par-4 13th and ended up with a pair of 38s.

Mafy Singson, who matched Malixi’s feat at Luisita last March with a victory at windy Splendido last May, also caught up with the co-leaders with a birdie on No. 11 after making the turn at 38.

But the World Amateur veteran yielded three straight strokes from No. 12 and bogeyed two of the last three against a birdie on the 15th. She limped with a 77 for a share of sixth with fellow amateur Alethea Gaccion, who also gained a stroke on No. 17 for a 42-35.

Abigail Abarcas, the other amateur in the compact field, snatched the lead with four straight pars but fell just as quickly as she bogeyed the next five holes for a 41 which she later matched at the back in a round marred by four bogeys and a double bogey against a lone birdie. She skied to an 82.

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But with the prevailing conditions at the tight, hazard-laden rolling layout, no lead is safe or no deficit is too big, guaranteeing another topsy-turvy second round today and a wild finish in the 54-hole tournament Friday.

Pamela Mariano and Martina Miñoza matched 79s, Gretchen Villacencio struggled with an 80 and amateur Eagle Ace Superal and Lucy Landicho carded identical 81s.

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