LAGUNA – World No. 1 Sung Hyun Park shot a three-under 69 in windy conditions at The Country Club for a two-stroke lead over amateur Yuka Saso and Taiwanese Wu Hsiao-ling and Lin Tzu-chi at the start of the TCC Ladies Invitational.
Followed by a huge gallery that included a host of foreign media and Korean fans, Park put her near-flawless shotmaking and iron play on display in the first nine holes, producing three birdies before slowing down with a two-birdie, two-bogey effort in the last nine holes for a 33-36 card.
“I didn’t expect to play this well. I know that the course is hard but I also know that I could do better in the second round,” said Park, who hit an errant teeshot on the long par-3 11th and three putted on No. 15 for her bogeys in her first tournament after claiming the world’s top ranking Tuesday.
She also flubbed at least three makeable birdie putts.
Saso likewise lived up to the pre-tournament hype with a 71 behind a strong finish in the 54-hole championship serving as the third leg of LPGA of Taiwan (TLPGA) and fifth stop of the 2018-19 Ladies Philippine Golf Tour put up by ICTSI.
The Asian Games gold medalist dropped a stroke right on the first hole. But after a run of pars, the PSA Athlete of the Year awardee birdied the 10th and gunned down another birdie on the 16th to get back in contention
“She (Saso) hits it long for an amateur. I see I bright future in her,” said Park, who also took notice of Ardina’s game which she described as great if not for a shaky windup.
Ardina battled back from three strokes down to tie Park at two-under with a birdie-birdie feat from No. 11, capped by a two-shot swing on the long par-3 11th after Park stumbled with her first bogey.
That sparked hopes for a big finish for the Filipina LPGA campaigner, who, however, fell off the leaderboard with bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16, enabling Saso and the Taiwanese duo to move to joint second. Ardina finished with a 72.
“Long hitters have the edge here. Park and Yuka both hit it long but if I could have their length, I’m sure I will be hard to beat,” said Ardina.
Wu fired four birdies against three bogeys in morning play while Lin birdied No. 17 to turn in one of the late 36-35 cards to force a three-way tie for second.
Ardina slipped to joint fifth at 72 with Korean Park Jin Hee and local amateur Sunshine Baraquiel while former LPGT Order of Merit winner Pauline del Rosario blew a two-under card with three bogeys in the last seven holes to tumbled to eighth at 73 with Taiwanese Huang Pei-Wen, Thais Wannasiri Sirisampant and Wad Phaewhchimplee and local ace Princess Superal.
Action is expected to heat up in Thursday's second round with a switch in tee times with Park, Saso and Ardina slugging it out again at 7:25 a.m.