Sarah Ababa took a step closer to ending a tedious pursuit of a second career win on the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour as she padded her overnight four-stroke lead to six over Pamela Mariano despite a four-over 74 at the Marapara course in Bacolod on Thursday.
But her chief rivals likewise struggled on another wind-blown day in the ICTSI Negros Occidental Golf Classic, enabling the Davaoeña shotmaker to virtually drive a wedge between her and her pursuers for a clear shot at the top P105,000 purse in the 54-hole championship.
“I just tried to be patient – fairways, greens and make the most of my birdie chances, if not, just go for two-putt par,” said Ababa, whose 143 total and a huge six-shot lead over Mariano moved her 18 holes away from scoring a follow-up to her breakthrough win at Sherwood Hills in 2015.
Mariano assumed the challenger’s role despite a birdie-less 74 for a 149 as Daniella Uy faded with a double bogey-bogey finish for a 77 and a 150, and Chanelle Avaricio skied to a 78 and fell from second to joint fourth at 151 with Chihiro Ikeda and amateur Rianne Malixi, who matched 73s, and Florence Bisera, who limped with a 76.
Ikeda and Malixi’s three-over cards proved to be the day’s best as the women of the Tour fumbled and stumbled while facing the challenges and quirks of the short but difficult par-70 layout, enabling Ababa, who seized control with a superb first round 69, to build a huge lead and head to the final day with less pressure.
“I’m not pressured at all. I’ll just play my own game and try to play steady,” said Ababa on how she would handle the final day challenge. “Because if you hit the fairways, it gives you a chance to attack the greens.”
Ababa cushioned the impact of her bogey on No. 2 and double bogey on the sixth with birdies on Nos. 7 and 9 but she yielded three straight strokes from No. 10.
Unlike her pursuers, however, she held away with a run of pars for a 36-38.
Six behind Ababa after 18 holes, Mariano matched the former’s frontside 36 but also equaled the two-day leader’s three-over card in the last nine holes to stay from where she stood at the start of the pivotal round.
Uy, meanwhile, hardly recovered from a double bogey-bogey mishap from No. 3, hitting two birdies but making four more bogeys and another double bogey for a 77 to fall behind by seven at the third spot.
“It was a struggle as the wind definitely was stronger than yesterday (first round),” said Uy, who yielded two strokes on the par-3 No. 3 while trying to pitch from a twig.
But the former Junior World champion and winner at Riviera-Langer in 2021 remains hopeful of her chances but stressed: “I need to be more careful with my approach shots and putting since the greens are really tough.”
Malixi, for her part, said her 73 wasn’t that great but it was a lot better than her first round 78. And, like Uy, she still nurtures hopes of pulling it off in the end.
“I was able to pull up some shots that I needed to do, but I just didn’t quite set my target properly and had a hard time for my short game or recovery shots,” said the 16-year-old Malixi, who hit one birdie against two bogeys and a double bogey in a backside start then put up a one-birdie, one-bogey card in the last nine holes to trail Ababa by 8 shots.
“I’ll reflect on what I did today and then change my strategy for tomorrow (today),” added the three-time LPGT leg winner last year.
The rest also faltered with Harmie Constantino limping with a 79 after a 73 for a 152, amateur Laurea Duque groping for a 78 after a 76 for a 154 and Sunshine Baraquiel and Gretchen Villacencio matching 156s after 79 and 80, respectively.
Mia Piccio rebounded from an 80 with a 78 but lay too far behind at 158 in a tie with Apple Fudolin and Rev Alcantara, who shot 78 and 81, respectively, while Cyna Rodriguez scored a 91 after an 89 for a 140 in her first LPGT tournament in nearly three years.