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Malixi, Hernandez zero in on SEAG berths

MANILA, Philippines — They had hardly anything else in common but Rianne Malixi and Jet Hernandez are halfway through the same mission – make the national team.

Malixi stumbled with her worst card at Luisita Golf and Country Club in four days – a five-over 77 that, however, kept her 12 strokes clear of Arnie Taguines and Mafy Singson while Jet Hernandez matched that huge lead in men’s play with a 73 at the close of the first of two 72-hole Southeast Asian Games golf qualifying in Tarlac Sunday.

Dominating her rivals by 14 shots after a 71-73 in a punishing day Saturday, where the field played 36 holes, Malixi practically just went through the motions, undaunted by a three-bogey mishap at the front and a double bogey and another bogey at the back.

She drained just one birdie – on No. 10, but her 39-38 round and a 294 aggregate still kept her way ahead of fellow ICTSI-backed players Taguines and Singson, who assembled identical 306s heading to the final stage of the elims starting Friday at Splendido Taal.

At stake in the 8-round qualifier is a lone berth in the national team set to vie in the SEAG in Vietnam in May with LK Go, member of the squad that swept the gold medal in the last regional biennial games, also at Luisita, in 2019, seeded into the team.

The last spot in the three-player women’s squad is a captain’s choice.

Taguines shot a 74 marked by two birdies but marred by four bogeys while Singson dropped three strokes in the first 10 holes then shot two birdies in the last eight that were however good to negate a double-bogey mishap on No. 15. She ended up with a 75.

Despite Malixi imposing lead, Taguines and Singson still hope to gain some ground in the early going and probably turn things around when play shifts to the windy Splendido, which also puts premium on length and mental toughness.

But Malixi’s long game has been superb all week and she’s in control of her iron play and putting, making her the heavy favorite to nail the coveted slot in the national squad.

Hernandez has also practically put a lock on the first of two spots being disputed in their side of the elims, coming alive at the back with three birdies that somehow made up for a disastrous frontside 40.

The former Junior World campaigner, who co-led with Jacob Calita and Miguel Ilas in the first two rounds of the elims organized and conducted by the National Golf Association of the Philippines, stormed to a four-shot lead late Saturday but fumbled with two bogeys and a double bogey in the first nine holes.

That enabled Edward Dy to rally from 11 down to within six strokes with an opening 35 but he failed to match Hernandez’s fiery finish that had the former yielding six shots in the last nine holes with a backside 39 for a 74.

Hernandez’s second one-over card in four days gave him a 290 total, 12 strokes clear of Dy, who shared second spot at 302 with Masaichi Otake, who also rallied with a 35 for a 75.

Ilas, who stayed in the hunt with a 72-73 Saturday, blew it all with an 82 for a 303 while Ivan Monsalve posted the day’s best 69 for a 304 and in joint fifth with brother Ryan, who, however, bombed out with an 80 after a third round 69.

Only 16 players in the men’s side and eight in the women’s division will proceed to Splendido Taal with Malixi and Hernandez raring to formalize their stints with the national squad for the May 12 to 23 Games.

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