Ranged against the world No. 2 and a former LPGA campaigner, Rianne Malixi didn’t cringe and instead delivered a solid round that put her right in the medal mix at the start of the women’s golf competitions in the 19th Asian Games on Thursday, Sept. 28.
She shot a pair of birdies on each nine of the West Lake International Golf Country Club in Xihu District and preserved a bogey-free 68 that netted her a share of seventh among 39 bidders in individual play of the 72-hole tournament.
While Chinese Ruoning Yin outshot her by one to join four others at second with 67s behind Japanese top amateur Saki Baba, who flourished with a 65, the 16-year-old Malixi’s gritty performance spoke well of the caliber of the player making her debut in the continent’s premier sporting competitions.
After two pars, she hacked a superb tee-shot and birdied the par-3 No. 3, gained a stroke on the par-4 fifth and dominated the par-5 10th to go three-under. She missed a couple of chances in the next five holes but flashed another solid iron play to birdie the last short hole on the 16th.
Teammate Lois Kaye Go, however, failed to sustain a frontside 35 with bogeys on Nos. 14 and 15. Though the Cebuana recovered with back-to-back birdies from No. 16, she holed with another miscue to finish with a 72 for joint 21st.
But the fancied names lived up to the hype as Baba, the highest ranked amateur at world No. 3 in a field spiced up by the pros, led by Yin, crushed the par-72 course with a combination of power, iron play and putting.
Starting out at the backside, Baba birdied three of the first four holes then rebounded from a miscue on No. 15 with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 for a 32.
She kept pounding the layout with her stellar play, leading to another back-to-back birdie feats from No. 2 then closed out with two more birdies against a bogey in the last five holes for a seven-under 65.
Baba took a two-stroke lead over Yin, who flaunted her world-class skills with a brilliant 31 against the ICTSI-backed Malixi and multi-titled Thai Patcharajutar Kongkraphan. But the recent winner of the Women’s PGA Championship, who had held the world’s top ranking for two consecutive weeks before dropping to No. 2 this week, slowed down in the last nine holes which she played in even par for a 67.
Joining the Chinese, 22, at second are compatriots Xiyu Lin and Yu Liu, Thai Arpichaya Yubol and India’s Aditi Ashok, while Korean Hyunjo Yoo and Chinese-Taipei’s Ting-Hsuan Huang matched Malixi’s four-undercard to likewise put themselves in early medal contention.
Kongkraphan, who had posted 23 pro wins, also hit two birdies on both nines but made a bogey on No. 13 and slipped to joint 10th at 69 with five others.
Malixi’s four-under effort likewise stood as the team output in the day as the Philippines took seventh place with 140, counting Go’s 72, six strokes behind China and Japan, which produced identical 134s in the event won by the Filipinas in Jakarta in 2018 behind Yuka Saso, who also won the individual gold, Bianca Pagdanganan and Go.