Bianca, Yuka in hot pursuit

Nelson Beltran - The Philippine Star
Bianca, Yuka in hot pursuit
Bianca Pagdanganan

Phillipine Golfers not far behind leaders

TOKYO – Bianca Pagdanganan banked on a birdie-birdie start and a near hole-in-one to fire a two-under-par 69 in searing temperatures and stand right behind the early frontrunners in the Olympic women’s golf at the Kasumigaseki Country Club yesterday.

The 2019 SEA Games double-gold winner and LPGA longest-drive champ collected five birdies in all against three bogeys in a fine start that put her in a position she’s comfortable with.

TRACKER: Team Philippines at the Tokyo Olympics

Pagdanganan is in striking distance of the leaders and Yuka Saso is not that far behind at 74, giving hope to a sustained hot drive by Team Philippines all the way to the waning days of the Tokyo Games.

Two boxers in middleweight Eumir Marcial and flyweight Carlo Paalam look to deliver even bigger punches today as they seek a shot at the gold.

In another big day for the Philippine contingent, Paalam faces Japanese Ryomei Tanaka at 2:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. in Manila) while Marcial clashes with Ukranian Oleksandr Khyzhniak at 3:03 p.m.

“Let’s not be content with one gold,” said Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Bambol Tolentino.

From the four remaining Filipino bets, Team Philippines hopes to extend the medal rush in a glorious Olympic breakthrough that has produced one gold, one silver plus two other sure medals.

With those birdies on No. 1 and 2, Pagdanganan enjoyed the lead in the early holes before a rollercoaster run in the back nine sent her to joint seventh, three strokes off solo first-round leader Madelene Sagstrom (66) from Sweden.

Saso struggled to a one-over in the front nine and struggled even more at the turn (two-over) for joint 47th on a hot, hot day in the Saitama course causing heat stroke and dehydration to a lot of individuals, including Carito Villaroman, who coaches and caddies for Pagdanganan.

At least, Villaroman, a former World Junior Golf champ, finished the round at Kasumigaseki where the thermometer topped 36 Celsius. Lexi Thompson’s caddie Jack Fulghum made it just through just 15 holes of Thompson’s one-over 72.

In practice round Tuesday, Saso’s regular caddie Lionel Matichuk suffered from heat stroke and ended up in a hospital.

But both Philippine bets said they’re okay.

“I’m happy. I felt it’s a good round, but I hope to improve in the next three rounds. Anything can happen in the next three days,” said Pagdanganan, hopeful for herself and Saso.

“Even if she’s (Saso) behind by eight, anything is possible,” said Pagdanganan.

Pagdanganan was right behind early pacesetters Nelly Korda (67), Aditi Ashok (67), Matilda Castren (68), Ko Jin Young (68) and Carlota Ciganda (68) with her two-under laced with birdies on No. 1, 2, 5, 14 and 16.

She could have gone three-under but her tee-shot on the par-3, 168-yard No. 16 lipped the cup, the ball resting just an inch off the hole. She tapped it in for birdie.

“The goal in the round was to be in a position to podium. We achieved that,” said Villaroman although he ended up at the country club clinic.

The tournament could be cut to 54 holes, organizers said Wednesday, because of an approaching tropical storm due to land at the weekend.

“We have notified the players that we may have to be forced to reduce to a 54-hole competition,” International Golf Federation official Heather Daly-Donofrio said Wednesday evening.

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