TAGAYTAY – Sunshine Baraquiel soared to her first pro victory the hard way, pulling through in the ICTSI Tagaytay Highlands Ladies Challenge by three over two of the country’s top players at one of the toughest courses under severe conditions.
She recovered from a faulty start in the final round then flashed the form she flaunted late in the second round to stay in firm control, hitting clutch shots and putts on her way to a 72 and a spot in the elite circle of winners in only her fifth tournament on the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour.
“The tournament was mine to win, so I just hit the shots that I had to hit and made the putts that I had to make,” said Baraquiel, a lady pilot who never finished higher than seventh in her previous stints at Eagle Ridge’s Aoki, Sherwood, Eagle Ridge’s Norman and back at Aoki won by Harmie Constantino last week.
“Basically, I just breathed and slowed things down when I get nervous and my decision-making was on point – I made some crucial putts and made good pitch and chip shots,” added the 30-year-old shotmaker, who turned pro because of Covid. While at home, she said she realized that her heart was in golf and not in flying.
With an 11-over 221 total, Baraquiel landed P101,250 in earnings, beating Chihiro Ikeda and Daniella Uy, who pooled identical 224s after a pair of 73s, for the top honors at Highlands.
The margin of victory didn’t actually reflect the manner by which she and the rest of the field struggled trying to survive the harsh wind conditions at the up-and-down layout in all three days. The outcome remained unclear as they made the turn with Baraquiel, who grabbed a two-stroke lead over Ikeda and Uy in a wild second round chase Wednesday, hanging tough despite a two-over 36 after a fierce frontside battle.
Ikeda threatened to within one with a 35 while Constantino closed to within two after a best 34 output in a tie with Uy and amateur Mafy Singson, who also carded 36s.
But Baraquiel, 30, proved steadier at the back. While her rivals stumbled one after the other in their frenetic attempt to hunt for birdies, the former Southwoods mainstay in various Interclub championships kept her poise and stayed focused, birdying the 10th for a two-stroke cushion then hitting another on No. 15 against two bogeys, including on the last hole that however hardly impeded her rise to the LPGT throne.
Ikeda fell farther back with three bogeys from No. 11, fought back with birdies on Nos. 14 and 15 but bogeyed the next for a 73, which Uy matched with her own version of a three-over closing card marked by two birdies but marred by five bogeys. They each received P63,750.
Constantino pressed her bid for back-to-back victories following her one-shot escape over Singson at Eagle Ridge’s Aoki last week with a two-birdie, two-bogey game after 12 holes. But she bogeyed two of the last five holes and wound up with a 72 in second-to-last flight to end up fourth with a 15-over 225.
Singson, whose 76 in brutal conditions netted her the first round lead but slipped to fourth with a second six-over card Wednesday, bounced back despite a 35 start. But she groped for a double-bogey and two bogeys in a birdie-less backside 40 for a 75.
She finished fifth with a 227 but claimed the low amateur honors for the second straight LPGT leg.
Chanelle Avaricio likewise wilted in harsh conditions at the back as she limped with a 41 and finished with a second straight 75 for sixth at 231 while amateur Laurea Duque carded a 76 for seventh at 233 and Lovelyn Guioguio faltered with a 78 for eighth at 234.
Korean Jane Jeong wound up ninth in her pro debut as she turned in a 79 for a 237 while Burberry Zhang, another amateur, placed 10th with a 239 after an 82.
The touring ladies take a break this week after back-to-back tournaments at Eagle Ridge and Tagaytay Highlands with the circuit making a return to the Riviera Golf and Country Club, which hosted the first restart of the LPGT last year after an eight-month hiatus, at resumption.
The ICTSI Riviera Ladies Challenge will be played Nov. 24-26 while the ICTSI Riviera Ladies Championship will be held Dec. 1-3 at the Couples and Langer courses, respectively, in Silang, Cavite.