Gretchen Villacencio stuns field with 69, leads by 1 shot

SILANG, Cavite, Philippines — Unheralded Gretchen Villacencio put in a career-best three-under 69 and found herself a bewildered leader, one stroke ahead of fancied Princess Superal and Korean amateur Kim Hee Ji at the start of the ICTSI Riviera Ladies Classic at Riviera’s Couples course here yesterday.

Villacencio, whose best finish after five legs of this year’s Ladies Philippine Golf Tour was 12th at Beverly Place in Pampanga last January, flashed superb form off the mound, with her iron play and putting as she produced five birdies against two bogeys for a 34-35 card.

She also credited her strong start to a couple of lucky shots and a caddie who backed her up from start to finish.

“I was just lucky, had some tough shots that I saved,” said Villacencio, who turned pro just late last year upon the prodding of father and one-time PGT leg winner Arnold, who also served as her caddie. “He was very supportive and helped inspire me to play this good.”

But ready to pounce is Superal, who sandwiched her bogeys on Nos. 8 and 11 with birdies on the sixth, ninth, 10th and 12th for a 70 that put her 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 (today). 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 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 35-35 round with an eagle on the par-5 No. 7.