Rianne Malixi kept the momentum of her big second round charge, putting in a second straight 69 to seize control by two over Morocco’s Sofia Essakali and Megan Meng of the US in the third round of the Citrus Golf Trail Ladies Invitational in Sebring, Florida Thursday.
The young Filipina star matched her three-under card Wednesday, which featured four birdies against a bogey, in bogey-free fashion, birdying Nos. 4, 7 and 14 while salvaging a par on No. 6 for a 34-35 card as she rose from 40th to move into the threshold of another victory in a prolific season.
“I believe consistency was a great factor to today’s (Thursday) round. Just hitting fairways and greens was the goal, and if I had missed any of those, I just scrambled back with a par. I made all of my up-and-downs, so I didn’t drop a shot,” said Malixi, who battled back from five shots down off Vanessa Zhang and took command with a 216, now two shots clear of Morocco’s Sofia Essakali and Megan Meng of the US.
The ICTSI-backed ace was way off at mid-pack of the 96-player starting field with a dismal 78 start, nine strokes off Zhang, but climbed to seventh with a second round 69 and could’ve pulled away if not for four missed birdie chances inside eight feet in the third round.
But her even-par 216 aggregate proved enough to put her on top of the heap and closer to a seventh crown in a season that saw her post two AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) victories, sweep her three appearances on the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour, and clinch the Thailand Junior World trophy.
While majority of the rest found themselves beaten by tough conditions, including at the windy backside, Malixi picked up from where she left off, burying a long birdie putt on No. 4 and a downhiller from pin-length distance on No. 7 then making a tap-in birdie on the par-5 No. 14 after dumping her second shot into the greenside bunker.
Essakali and Meng took the challenger’s role as Zhang skied to a 78 after a 69 and 73 and tumbled to joint sixth at 220. Essakali shot a 71 while Meng carded a 73 for 218s, two strokes off Malixi.
Brimming with confidence after bouncing back from a six-over card, Malixi missed a birdie chance on the first hole but banged in a 20-footer on No. 4, only to muff a six-footer on the next. She went up-and-down on No. 6, birdied the next and missed another chance on the par-5 ninth.
As the wind picked up at the back, Malixi kept her poise and stayed in control of her game although she flubbed birdie putts on Nos. 10, 13 and 15 that, however, failed to stymie her charge to the top.