DAVAO CITY – Asian Games champion Yuka Saso kicks off Pradera Verde’s title-retention bid Wednesday at the start of the 13th Philippine Airlines Ladies Interclub golf team championships at the Palos Rancho Verdes Golf and Country Club.
The 17-year-old Fil-Japanese will play her first tournament since collecting two gold medals in the recent Asiad in Jakarta, Indonesia.
“Mag-eenjoy lang ako. Tingin ko maganda naman ang tsansa naming,” said Saso who set a record 59 points, five-under in stroke play, last year.
Pradera Verde made a smashing debut last year in Cebu City, clobbering the field with a record 638 points, 43 points clear of five-time champion Manila Southwoods.
Only two members of that team remain, Saso and Annyka Pineda-Cayabyab, 14-year-old daughter of Lubao Mayor Mylyn Pineda Cayabyab.
Reinforcing the squad are four Malaysian juniors, a Korean teen based in Angeles City and Rianne Malixi, the youngest at 11 years old.
Pradera Verde captain Norman Sto. Domingo said Saso and Korean Luna Shin will definitely see action in the first round with either Cayabyab or Malixi and one of the Malaysians backing them up.
Except for the Malaysians who were set to arrive later in the day, the rest of the squad played their first practice round Wednesday.
The Malaysians making their debut in the country’s premier ladies’ team event are Ika Nasser, 16; Charlayne Chong, 16; Vinisha Gunaseelan, 16; and Eliza Mae Kho, 17.
Manila Southwoods is coming to the event with a re-tooled team, infusing new blood in its desire to restore its dominance in the annual event.
Led by internationalist Sofia Chabon and Sunshine Baraquiel, the Carmona-based squad is tapping Annika Guangko, Mafy Singson, Laurea Duque, Mariel Tee, Samantha Dizon and Tin Torralba, who played for Pradera last year.
“Our players have been together for more than a month now and are playing fairly well,” Southwoods captain Claire Ong said. “The players are in high spirits.”
With Southwoods opting not to defend its Founders division title, Alabang and Del Monte are expected to fight for the second-tier championship.
Returning to defend their crowns are Sportswriters champion Eagleridge and Friendship titlist Wack Wack.
On Tuesday, PAL president Jaime Bautista led the ceremonial tee-off ushering in the four-day tournament. Joining him were PAL officials Bong Velasquez and Vic Suarez.
The Molave scoring system will be used in the four-to-play, three-to-count team event. An even par score is worth 54 points.
Major sponsors for the 13th PAL Ladies Interclub include Airbus, Bombardier, People Asia, UM Broadcasting Network and Primax Broadcasting Network.
Other sponsors are TFC, Mastercard, SEDA Hotel, SM Supermalls and Banco de Oro. Donors are Asia Brewery and Philippine National Bank.