Pagdanganan trails leaders by five

Bianca Pagdanganan (AFP)

Bianca Pagdanganan upstaged reigning US Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso by turning in a two-under-par 70 at the start of the LPGA Drive On Championship in Fort Myers, Florida on Thursday.

The SEA Games champion closed out her frontside stint with back-to-back birdies to keep herself in the mix on the day Japanese Nasa Hataoka and American Marina Alex shared the spotlight by carding a pair of 65s.

That gave them a one-shot lead over Thai Patty Tavatanakit, Linnea Johannson of Sweden and Irish Leona Maguire as they braved the wind that whipped up early at the Crown Colony Golf and Country Club course and pulled some of the best players down the leaderboard.

Saso, who is now carrying the Japanese flag, was one of them.

One of the favorites in the 54-hole event after finishing sixth and third in the Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona and Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, respectively, practically shot herself in the foot with a 77 – a round marred by a horrendous “8” on the par-4 No. 16.

Saso, who collected more than P10 million in earning in the first two legs of the LPGA Tour, needs an extra-ordinary round to make the cut.

She had an awful backside start and dropped three shots after six holes, and worse, she made a wayward drive on the 16th and struggled to get out of the thick bushes. She missed the green on her fifth shot and bungled a triple bogey putt from close range that saw her tumble to a share of 115th.