GRETCHEN Villacencio fired a career-best three-under 69 to take a one stroke-lead in the first round of the ICTSI Riviera Ladies Classic at Riviera’s Couples course on Wednesday in Silang, Cavite.
Villacencio, who turned pro just late last year, hit five birdies against two bogeys.
Tied for second are Princess Superal and Korean amateur Kim Hee Ji.
Villacencio, 20th at Highlands, birdied the par-5 second and bounced back strong from a bogey mishap on the fifth with birdies on Nos. 6, 9 and 11 to wrest early control. She dropped a stroke on the par-5 16th but recovered quickly with another short birdie putt on the next to get past Superal and Kim.
“I was just lucky, had some tough shots that I saved,” said Villacencio, daughter PGT leg winner Arnold, who was on her bag on Wednesday.
“He was very supportive and helped inspire me to play this good.”
Villacencio;s best finish in five legs of this year’s Ladies Philippine Golf Tour was 12th at Beverly Place in Pampanga last January.
Superal, who sandwiched her bogeys on Nos. 8 with birdies on the sixth and ninth, and also went birdie-bogey-birdie from the 10th to be on track for a second straight LPGT crown after a record-setting 16-shot romp at Tagaytay Highlands last week.
“I hope I can continue my good game tomorrow. I’m confident and looking forward to scoring back-to-back wins,” said Superal, priming up for the resumption of her Symetra Tour campaign in the US early next month.
Kim matched Superal’s two-under card to likewise stay in the early hunt for top honors in the sixth leg of the circuit sponsored by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. with the young Korean spiking her round with an eagle on the par-5 No. 7. She also birdied Nos. 2, 12 and 16 to negate her bogeys on Nos. 4, 8 and 15.
Another amateur, Missy Legaspi fired a 71 with two birdies in the last three holes, while Korean amateur Bang Choeun carded a 72 for joint fifth with Cyna Rodriguez, who bogeyed the par-3 17th.
Marvin Monsalve carded a 75 while Eagle Ridge leg champion Chihiro Ikeda and former leg winner Sarah Ababa struggled with four-over 76s, seven strokes off the pace in the 54-hole championship backed by Custom Clubmakers, BDO, Meralco, Sharp, KZGm PLDT, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and K&G Golf.