Jhonnel Ababa will all have the drive and motivation as he guns for a record third straight championship in the ICTSI Pradera Verde Classic, armed with a game he polished during the break and a good track record on the Philippine Golf Tour (PGT) Asia.
The winningest on the fledgling circuit with four victories, including back-to-back romps at the sprawling Pradera Verde Golf and Country Club complex in Lubao, Pampanga, Ababa is aware of the pressure but confident of extending his win run against a stellar international field all aiming for a big finish in the $100,000 event which gets under way tomorrow.
They include Aussie Damien Jordan, Peter Stojanovski of Macedonia, Americans Josh Salah, Lexus Keoninh and Charles Lee, Koreans Myung Chal Hwang, Sangun Lee and Jun Sung Park along with Spain’s Salvador Paya Vila, Thai Pachara Sakulyong, Singapore’s Gabriel Cheok, Finland’s Sean Avellan, and Japan’s Yuta Sudo and Toru Nakajima, among others.
“I’m ready and in top condition,” said Ababa, who also won at Eagle Ridge at Forest Hills in 2018 before going into some kind of slump after keeping his Pradera crown last year. He ended up tied for 25th in the Luisita Championship, shared 19th place at Southwoods, tied for eighth at Aboitiz, wound up joint 10th at the CAT Open before finishing fifth at Summit Point.
But he hopes to flash his old magic this week although he remains wary of the opposition, particularly the other local aces who are all coming into the 72-hole championship raring to foil his bid for a record run in the third season (2019-2020) of the circuit put up by ICTSI.
Frontrunner Tony Lascuña, for one, is also out to press his bid for the Order of Merit (OOM) crown while Clyde Mondilla is likewise priming up for his defense of the Philippine Open crown.
Jobim Carlos, the 2018 PGT OOM winner, also vows to come out strong in a bid to end a string of so-so finishes following a dip in form last year, along with veterans Jay Bayron, Elmer Salvador, Jerson Balasabas, Michael Bibat, Rufino Bayron and Gerald Rosales.
The young guns are also tipped to crowd the fancied bets in all four days of the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. due for a big win after a string of impressive finishes last year.
Others expected to contend are Reymon Jaraula, Keanu Jahns, James Ryan Lam, Justin Quiban, Nilo Salahog, Sean Talmadge, Rupert Zaragosa and former amateur hotshot Lloyd Go.
Bianca, Dottie make LPGA Portland Classic cut
For the second straight day, Bianca Pagdanganan and Dottie Ardina shot identical scores – even-par 72s – to safely make the cut in the LPGA Portland Classic at the Columbia Edgewater in Portland, Oregon Saturday (Sunday, Manila time).
Pagdanganan and Ardina are among the 13 players tied for 43rd spot on two-under 142 and get a chance to play together for the first time in the final round on Sunday.
Both Filipinas are paired with American Andrea Lee at 9:15 a.m.
Pagdanganan, the 22-year-old rookie making her fourth start in the LPGA, began with three bogeys in the first six holes.
“I struggled a bit with my irons but I eventually got it together,” said the reigning Southeast Asian Games champion.
Pagdanganan strung up four straight birdies from 9 to 12 until she closed with a bogey on 18.
Averaging 274 yards off the tee, she found only nine of 14 fairways and missed seven greens.
The 26-year-old Ardina, on the other hand, missed only one fairway but missed six greens.
She had a roller-coaster round of five birdies against the same number of birdies.
Both ICTSI-backed players lie 12 shots behind leader Mel Reid who fired seven birdies in a seven-under par 65 to take a two-stroke lead over defending champion Hannah Green.
England’s Reid, a six-time winner on the Ladies European Tour who is chasing a first LPGA title, heads into Sunday’s final round on 12-under par 132.
“Put myself in great position, a position that everyone wants to be in, so I’m excited for the opportunity tomorrow,” said Reid, who strung together four birdies in a row from the sixth through the ninth and rolled in her final birdie of the day at the 18th.
“Just keep doing the same thing and see where tomorrow afternoon takes us,” added Reid, who shared seventh at the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage, California, last week.
“I felt like I hit it really good last week, so kind of took that momentum going into this week,” said Reid, who said she benefitted from the day off on Thursday after the tournament was reduced to 54 holes because of poor air quality due to wildfires.
“I think it did me a favor having an extra day off,” she said. “I was pretty tired from last week.”
Australia’s Green, who shared the first-round lead with American Cydney Clanton, followed her opening 66 with a four-under par 68 for a 10-under total of 134.
She shook off a bogey at her opening hole, the 10th and put herself alone in second with a birdie bomb at her final hole, the ninth.
“I got off to such a great start, so it’s always hard to back up a low round,” said Green, whose two wins last year included her Portland triumph and her first major title at the Women’s PGA Championship.
Yuka struggles, shoots 1-over 73
Rookie Yuka Saso made only one birdie Saturday and limped home with a one-over par 73 that dashed her title hopes at the 51st Descente Ladies Tokai Classic in Aichi, Japan.
The 19-year-old Filipino-Japanese, who started the day just three strokes off the pace, bogeyed the first hole and dropped another shot on 6. Her only birdie came on the par-5 12.
On three-under 141, Saso is tied for 26th place with Momo Yoshikawa (74), Mami Fukuda (74), Minami Katsu (70), Solar Lee (71), Momoko Osato (68) and Ayako Kimura (71).
Hiroko Azuma and Ayaka Furue share the lead on 11-under.
Azuma, 28, had a bogey-free round of seven birdies while Furue, 20, was also flawless with five birdies.
In solo third on nine-under 135 was Ji-Hee Lee who shot a 65.
Pei-Ying Tsai turned in a 71 for fourth spot on 136 while Ai Suzuki and Saiki Fujita posted identical 71s for joint fifth on 137.
Bianca, Dottie look solid after 70s
Bianca Pagdanganan and Dottie Ardina opened with identical two-under par 70s on Friday at the start of the Cambia Portland Classic at the Columbia Edgewater Country Club in Portland, Oregon.
Ardina, 26, took advantage of an early tee time to shoot four birdies against two bogeys. She hit all but one fairway and reached 12 of 18 greens in a solid tee-to-green effort.
Pagdanganan, the 22-year-old rookie, matched Ardina’s effort before dusk fell.
Using her length off the tee, Pagdanganan collected three of four birdies on par-5 holes but picked up two bogeys.
Easily one of the tour’s longest hitters, Pagdanganan drove an average distance of 288 yards but missed four fairways and six greens.
“My short game helped me today,” said the reigning Southeast Asian Games champion who admitted having a hard time keeping the ball close to the pin.
“Got caught in the rough a couple times and I was spinning the ball a lot so every time I hit a green I couldn’t get it close,” she added.
Pagdanganan, who started in the back nine, birdied the first three holes. On 14, her short birdie attempt lipped out.
She made her first bogey from the bunker on 17 before play was suspended for over an hour due to thunderstorms.
“I didn’t save my pars from the bunker,” she rued, referring to another bogey on 2.
Looking forward to the weekend, Pagdanganan said she will stick to the gameplan.
Pagdanganan and Ardina, both backed by ICTSI, are in a group tied for 23rd place, four shots behind co-leaders Hannah Green and Cydney Clanton who sparkled with similar 66s.
The tournament has been reduced to 54 holes because of poor air quality due to wildfires.
While Green was able to complete her round, more than a dozen other players were on the course when darkness fell, and will return to complete the first round on Saturday morning.
“I missed quite a lot of greens compared to my score, so the only putt I really missed was the one on the last, so to say that is pretty good,” Green said.
“I’m super-happy that we finished and super-happy with my round.”
The 23-year-old Australian equaled the tournament’s 72-hole scoring record with a 21-under winning total last year.
Clanton teed off early and shook off an early bogey at the fourth.
The American’s seven birdies included five in the last eight holes.
“I finally made some putts,” Clanton said. “It’s also nice to hit some really close and had a par-five in two have a two-putt. So, it was really nice to see the ball starting to go in the hole.”
Germany’s Caroline Masson, Mexico’s Gaby Lopez, England’s Mel Reid and American Amy Olson were in the clubhouse on five-under 67.
Yealimi Noh was five-under with one hole left to play when darkness halted play.
South Korea’s Lee-Mi-rim, coming off her first major victory at the ANA Inspiration on Sunday, carded a 70.
Lee defeated American Nelly Korda and Canada’s Brooke Henderson in a playoff at Mission Hills. Both Korda and Henderson — who won the Portland title in 2015 and 2016 — withdrew this week because of the air quality concerns.
Disappointed Tiger takes long break
NEW YORK (AFP) — Tiger Woods departed Winged Foot disappointed and frustrated after missing the cut Friday at the 120th US Open, but already looking forward to defending his Masters title in November.
The 15-time major winner fired a seven-over par 77 on Friday at the famed Mamaroneck, New York, layout to finish on 10-over 150, four strokes beyond the cut line.
“It’s frustrating that I’m not going to be here for the weekend,” Woods said. “It feels like the way the golf course is changing, anybody who makes the cut has the opportunity to win this championship. I didn’t get myself that opportunity.
“It’s never easy to not be playing for the championship on the weekend. The whole goal of entering an event is to win, and when I don’t give myself that opportunity over the weekend, it doesn’t feel good.”
What’s next for Woods is some rest and recovery time. “Well, probably I’m not going to be swinging a club for a little bit,” Woods said. “Take a little break. And then refocus and get back after it.
The next time Woods tees off in a major it will be in November when he has his long-delayed opportunity to defend last year’s Masters title.
Woods captured the green jacket in April 2019 but because of the coronavirus pandemic has had to wait until 12-15 November to return to Augusta National.
Woods, ranked 21st, last won a title at the 2019 Zozo Championship in Japan last October. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, he will defend that title next month at Sherwood Country Club in California, the same course where he hosted the World Golf Challenge event for many years.
Reed tames Winged Foot with closing birdie
NEW YORK (AFP) — Masters winner Patrick Reed closed with a birdie to grab a one-stroke lead over Bryson DeChambeau after Friday’s second round of the US Open at suddenly formidable Winged Foot.
Windy weather, faster greens, tougher pin placements and dense rough sent scores spiraling over par just a day after the famed Mamaroneck, New York, course surrendered 21 sub-par rounds.
“You knew today was going to be brutal,” Reed said. “You know when those (US Golf Association) guys see you manhandle a course like yesterday, they were going to toughen it up.”
Tenth-ranked Reed hit only five fairways but relied on an impressive short game to shoot a level par 70 and stand on four-under 136 after 36 holes.
Reed, who took the green jacket in 2018, teed off on 10. He found the right rough off the ninth tee, then a deep bunker before blasting to inside six feet and making the putt for his fifth birdie against five bogeys.
“Getting into that bunker set it up nice for me and I was able to hit a nice 57(-degree wedge) in there to set up the birdie for me,” Reed said.
Ninth-ranked DeChambeau grinded out a two-under par 68, the day’s low round thanks to a closing eagle at nine, to stand on 137.
“I drove it pretty well considering the wind conditions,” DeChambeau said. “It wasn’t easy to do out there. I did it when I needed it most. I felt really comfortable.”
DeChambeau followed bogeys with next-hole birdies four times in his morning round, which he closed at the par-5 ninth by driving 380 yards, pitching to six feet and sinking his eagle putt.
“That was a fun way to finish off at a US Open. It feels great,” he said. “Confidence is at an all-time high right now.”
Spain’s Rafael Cabrera Bello and American Harris English, each chasing a first major title, shot 70 to share third on 138 with American Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner who followed a 65, the lowest US Open round ever at Winged Foot, with a 73.
Cabrera Bello opened with a 40-foot birdie putt at the par-3 10th, added a 26-foot birdie putt at the par-3 13th, made bogeys at five of his next 10 holes, then birdied three of his last four holes.
“The wind picked up significantly. That has made it really hard,” said Cabrera Bello. “The greens got a smidge quicker and a bit firmer. The pins were a little bit tougher. I’m sure the weekend is going to be very challenging.”
Thomas had a run of four birdies in five holes on the back nine and a double bogey at the first.
“I was far from having good stuff out there,” he said. “That was a grueling day. I cannot drive it like that this weekend.”
American Jason Kokrak was sixth on 139, the only other player under par overall after a 71.
“Extremely tough,” Kokrak said. “This wind is very difficult. If you don’t hit the fairway it’s tough to even get it to the green.”
The tournament was postponed from June by coronavirus concerns that forced a spectator ban and wiped out qualifying, requiring an exemption system to determine the field.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, Belgium’s Thomas Pieters and Americans Brendon Todd, Xander Schauffele and Matthew Wolff shared seventh on 140.
“Definitely it’s twice as tough as yesterday with the wind,” Pieters said. “Back nine the wind got up. The conditions make it really tough.”
Matusyama and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson each shot 69, the only sub-par rounds other than DeChambeau’s 68.
“Just going to keep getting tougher and tougher,” Watson said.
Woods, ‘Lefty’ miss cut
Fourth-ranked Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion, and England’s Lee Westwood each followed 67s on Thursday with 76s Friday to share 22nd on 143.
World number one Dustin Johnson fired a 70 to join them on 143.
South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, finished bogey-bogey-double bogey to shoot 74 and stand on one-over 141.
Tiger Woods, a 15-time major winner, and five-time major champion Phil Mickelson both missed the cut for only the second time in the same event after last year’s British Open.
Woods fired a 77 to finish on 150 while Mickelson shot a 74 to finish on 153.
“It’s frustrating that I’m not going to be here for the weekend,” Woods said.
“I enjoy the challenge this course provides,” Mickelson said. “I’m disappointed I didn’t play better.”
Lopes finishes strong in fading light
Playing in the final group of the day, home favourite Vitor Lopes secured the first-round lead after closing out an impressive seven under 65 in the fading light at the Open de Portugal.
Chasing the five under par target set by Carlos Pigem earlier in the day, Lopes made a fast start to his round with two birdies and an eagle in his first five holes.
As the last of the afternoon starters Lopes was able to take advantage of the calmer conditions, and recovered from a bogey at the sixth with further birdies at seven and nine to make the turn in a tie for the lead.
It was a lead he would extend with back to back gains at the 10th and 11th holes, before parring his way in through the last of the day’s light to score his lowest career round in a European Tour event.
“I am very happy, it is my best score on the European Tour and we got the round done so I will relax tonight,” said Lopes, who finished tied for 23rd when he last played in the Open de Portugal in 2018,
“It was a windy day and we got lucky not getting the bad weather with the rain, so I was just focusing on hitting greens and fairways, and some putts dropped in. Through 12 I was already seven under so I just kept the same mentality and I could finish it off.”
The Portuguese player, who plays predominantly on the Alps Tour, skipped the last two events in order to take up National spots at both the Portugal Masters and this week’s Open de Portugal.
It was a difficult decision for Lopes, who was performing well on the Alps Tour, and he admitted that he is a man on a mission at Royal Óbidos Spa & Golf Resort after the experience of last week’s tournament helped him to feel at ease.
“It is always a big week playing at home and in a European Tour event. I played last week so this week I am more relaxed, I am a man on a mission to make the most of it because I am currently on the Alps Tour playing but I have skipped two tournaments, and I was doing well on the rankings, so I hope I made the right decision.
I am very happy, it is my best score on the European Tour and we got the round done so I will relax tonight.
Lopes is hopeful home comforts can help him to continue scoring well.
Tiger grinds but fades
NEW YORK (AFP) — Tiger Woods grinded his way to a three-over par 73 in Thursday’s opening round of the 120th US Open, putting the 15-time major winner in jeopardy of missing the cut.
The inconsistent 44-year-old reigning Masters champion made six pars, six bogeys, five birdies and a closing double-bogey at Winged Foot, leaving him at risk of missing the cut for the third time in his past four US Open starts and fourth time in his career.
“It was a bit of ebb and flow to the round,” Woods said. “I did not finish off the round like I needed to. I made a bunch of putts in the middle part of the round.
“It seemed like most of my drives on the front nine landed in the fairway and ended up in bad spots, and I tried to stay as patient as possible, and unfortunately just did not finish off my round the way I needed to.”
World number 21 Woods has won a record 82 US PGA Tour titles, matching Sam Snead for the all-time record, and for a time he was fighting to make the most of a tough day.
Woods escaped a greenside bunker to six feet and made the par putt at the par-3 third, but made bogeys at the fourth and fifth before dropping his approach at the sixth to seven feet and sinking the par putt.
He made bogey at eight after finding dense rough off the tee, then responded with three birdies in a row.
Woods sank a 30-foot birdie putt at the par-5 ninth, followed with a 24-foot birdie putt at the par-3 10th and added a 19-foot birdie putt at the par-4 11th.
Thomas fires 65 to lead U.S. Open
NEW YORK (AFP) — Justin Thomas closed with a 25-foot birdie putt to seize a one-stroke lead after Thursday’s first round of the 120th US Open, while three other major winners lurked within two shots.
Third-ranked Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, fired a five-under par 65 at Winged Foot with a pack one back on 66 including Reed, the 2018 Masters winner who had a hole-in-one, 21-year-old American Matthew Wolff and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters.
“This is one of the better rounds I’ve had tee to green,” Thomas said. “I was very proud of my patience. I got off to a good start.”
Thomas, who fired the lowest US Open round ever at Winged Foot, began with a birdie, took a bogey at the par-3 third, answered with an eight-foot birdie at the par-4 sixth and then reeled off three consecutive birdies starting at the par-5 ninth before his impressive final putt.
“It was a good day for me,” Thomas said. “I’ve just played really solidly.”
Reed aced the 165-yard par-3 seventh and ran off three birdies in four holes on the back nine to share the lead until Thomas’s last shot at the famed Mamaroneck, New York, layout.
“I was just trying to hit myself a solid iron shot,” Reed said of his ace. “I took a little off it, 90 percent and one-hopped it in.”
Reed also blasted out of deep rough to two feet to save par at 16.
“It definitely was a scramble out there,” Reed said. “What kept me in it was the short game.”
There were no spectators to applaud any amazing shots as a coronavirus pandemic precaution, the deadly virus having delayed the event from its usual June date and sidelined Pieters until last month.
Pieters, third in his coronavirus comeback, closed with an eight-foot birdie putt at the ninth.
“I kind of knocked the rust off and came here with a bit of confidence because I’m hitting it well,” Pieters said. “Just got to put down a good score and I did today.”
Wolff, the 2019 US college champion making his US Open debut, reeled off three consecutive birdies starting at the par-4 11th and closed with five pars to share second.
Sitting two adrift on 67 were world number four Rory McIlroy, England’s Lee Westwood, chasing his first major title at age 47, and South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion.
Four-time major winner McIlroy, playing his first major round since becoming a father with the birth of daughter Poppy two weeks ago, made three of his four birdies on par-3 holes.
“Got off to a really nice start. Hit the ball very well, kept it in play,” McIlroy said. “I sort of walked off the green a little disappointed but if someone had given me a 67 at the start of the day I’d have taken it.”
Westwood, who would be the oldest US Open winner, sank a 12-foot birdie putt at the ninth hole, his last of the day, to match McIlroy.
“It was a good round of golf. Really solid in every aspect of the game, so I’m pleased with that start,” said Westwood, who has 12 top-five major finishes without a victory, three of them in US Opens.
Oosthuizen holed out from 148 yards in the second fairway for an eagle and closed with a birdie at the ninth from inside four feet.
Tiger, DJ, Phil stumble
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson and 15-time major winner Tiger Woods each opened on 73.
Johnson, who won the US PGA Tour Championship two weeks ago, managed only two birdies against a double bogey and three bogeys.
“It wasn’t too bad. Just didn’t drive it in the fairway enough,” Johnson said. “I rolled it really well, but I just didn’t make any putts.”
Woods, chasing a fourth US Open title at age 44, grinded all day but closed bogey-double bogey for a 73.
Woods birdied three in a row from the ninth through 11th holes but made three bogeys and a double in the last six holes.
“I needed to finish off the round better,” Woods said. And I didn’t.”
Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson shot 79, the 50-year-old left-hander opening birdie-birdie but following with nine bogeys and a double bogey.
“It’s a disappointing day,” Mickelson said. “I drove it poorly and I putted poorly. I just played terrible.”
Yuka fires 68, trails by three
Super rookie Yuka Saso opened with a four-under par 68 Friday to trail by three shots at the start of the 51st Descente Ladies Tokai Classic in Aichi, Japan Friday.
The 19-year-old Filipino-Japanese collected five birdies against one bogey to stay with the pack at the Shin Minami Aichi CC Mihama C.
Pei-Ying Tsai of Taiwan had seven birdies in a bogey-free round to reach the clubhouse on seven-under 65, one shot clear of four players bunched in a tie for second spot.
Rebounding from a forgettable final round at the JLPGA Championship Sunday, Saso fired three birdies in the first five holes — 2, 3 and 5 — before closing the first nine with a bogey. She added birdies on 12 and 14 to join three players for a share of ninth spot.
Pei-Ying’s best finish this season is a tie for 11th at the Golf 5 ladies tournament.
Starting at the back, the Taiwanese ace birdied 13, 14 and 18 to make the turn at three-under. She started and ended with back-to-back birdies coming home.
Four players had identical 66s — Saiki Fujita, Ai Suzuki, Ayaka Furue and Kokone Yoshimoto.
With 67s were Mami Fukuda, Naruha Miyata, Momo Yoshikawa and Miki Sakai.
Keeping Saso company were Rieru Shibusawa, Hiroko Azuma, Mone Inami and Chie Arimura.
Saki Nagamine, the reigning JLPGA champion, had a 70.