September 8, 2022 | 4:49 p.m.
ANTIPOLO — Amateur Rianne Malixi turned Harmie Constantino and rival Harmie Constantino’s early struggle and tentative finishes into a breakaway race, posting a whopping 9-stroke lead with a two-under 70 as the heat presented another challenge to the second round of the ICTSI Valley Golf Challenge here on Thursday.
But regardless of the weather, Malixi showed she was mentally and physically prepared for the less than ideal conditions in the tight and daunting Valley South, overcoming a two bogey and birdie card after five holes with three birdies and against a double-bogey on No. 11 with back-to-back birdies from 12 to pull away.
“It was a game full of digs. I was able to bounce off some not-so-good holes and hit the putts that mattered the most,” Malixi said.
As former co-leader Constantino and the rest of the pro field wilted in the debilitating heat and faded with lackluster rounds on the final nine holes of the tough top-down layout, Malixi stayed cool and took on the challenge. kept firing with the accompanying breeze aft making it more unnerving for his pursuers to mount a charge.
With a total of 144, Malixi heads into the final 18 holes of the P750,000 Championship with the biggest lead ever after 36 holes on the Ladies Philippines Golf Tour, seeking a second win this year after edging out Princess Superal by one at this year’s kick-off in Luisita last March.
“Unlike the first round, I didn’t put too much pressure on myself, which is a good thing. I was able to play my game,” added the ICTSI-backed campaigner American Junior Golf Association, which claimed its first professional win at Midlands at the end of last year’s LPGT season.
With his third pro win close at hand, Malixi said, “I’ll just play a relaxed game tomorrow, play with confidence and try not to think anything that might bring me down.”
Constantino never recovered from a three-bogey slip from No. 2, wasting more shots on No. 6 and 11 and No. 14, 15 and 16 before hitting his first birdie – a putt in four-foot downhill – on the course’s signature hole, the par-3 18th in a drizzle-soaked finish.
The two-set LPGT winner finished with a 79, forcing a tie for second at 153 with Marvi Monsalve, who limped off with a frontside 43 but broke a series of back pars with a birdie on the par-5 17th for 78.
With Chihiro Ikeda, winner of the Eagle Ridge-Aoki last July before the ICTSI-supported circuit went on a two-month hiatus, carding a 78 for a share of fourth at 154 with Martina Miñoza, who shot a 75, a shootout looms for the battle for second place, which however offers the best purse of P101,250 with Malixi set to sweep the pro championship and low amateur honors barring any unfortunate incidents in a final round which should be child’s play for the rising star.
But it will be a duel like no other for Constantino and Ikeda, who are both aiming for the best purse to power their respective bids in the Order of Merit race towards the final three stops of the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments. Inc. at Riviera, Pradera Verde and Anvaya Cove.
Winner by three sets but absent, Chanelle Avaricio leads the hunt with 522,500 pesos in earnings, but Ikeda and Constantino are close behind with earnings of 485,250 pesos and 368,250 pesos, respectively.
Monsalve is also out for a big finish and a chance for a first pro victory.
Gretchen Villacencio scored a 76 for sixth place at 156; Pamela Mariano and Sarah Ababa equaled 157 after a 78 and 81, respectively, while amateur Mafy Singson, who dominated the Splendido Taal stage last May, skied a birdie-less 81 for a 158 and Kristine Fleetwood carded a 77 for 10th at 159.
Malixi birdied the No. 2 from 8 yards to make up for a missed green bogey on the first hole in a repeat of his first-round tee. She then saw former co-leader Constantino stumble and slip down the leaderboard with three consecutive bogeys from the second hole to get ahead.
That first three-hit cushion made things much easier for Malixi, who had set himself up for a shootout with the two-set winner and defending OOM champion after tying 74 in the first round, and a fiery charge from the rest of the early contenders, including Monsalve, three title-seeking Ikeda, Ababa and fellow amateur and ICTSI teammate Mafy Singson.
But no one had come within four as Constantino continued his free fall with a series of bogeys and Ikeda and the others failed to put together a rally that would have earned them a chance to take the lead.