Malixi moves 1-shot behind pace after 68

RIANNE MALIXI pounced on a huge four-shot swing on No. 1 and threatened within one stroke off Nikki Oh after a 68 in the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Thunderbird Junior All-Star heading to a wild finish at the Papago Golf Course in Phoenix, Arizona.

Malixi, who started the round four strokes off the American with a 69, fell a shot farther back in a separate flight despite a solid backside 34 then birdied the par-five No. 1 which she eagled in the first round.

In a bizarre twist, Oh, who birdied three of the last five holes at the back to extend her lead, hit a couple of errant shots on the 427-yard opening hole where she holed out in two for a rare double-eagle feat and a 65 Friday. This time, she ended up with an 8, enabling the International Container Terminal Services Inc.-backed Malixi to pull within one with one round left in the 54-hole tournament that drew 15 champions of the American Junior Golf Association, including four in the Top 150 of the Rolex AjGA Rankings.

The duo matched two birdies against a bogey in the last eight holes with Oh finishing with a 71 for a 136 and Malixi churning out a pair of 34s for a 137.

But Alabama’s Scarlett Schremmer and Bridget Chantharath of California pooled identical 138s after a 66 and 67, respectively, and Nevada’s Brynn Kort fired a 69 to assemble a 139, setting the stage for a final round shootout among five contenders.

Oh, Malixi and Schremmer slug it out in one group, while Chantharath, Kort and Anna Fang are in the other bunch.

Fang, also from California, gunned down an eagle on No. 15 but reeled back with three bogeys in the first five holes at the front before birdying two of the last three to save a 71 for sixth at 141, five shots off the pace in the circuit for junior players aspiring to earn college golf scholarships.

Malixi, ranked No. 25 in the Rolex AJGA who is seeking a follow-up to her wire-to-wire triumph in the AJGA Se Ri Pak Desert Junior last year, birdied the par-5 10th for the second straight day and gained another stroke on the 16th but still found herself falling behind by 5 as Oh hit three birdies in a four-hole stretch from No. 14.

But things turned for the better for the SEA Games-bound Filipina star, winner of two pro events back home, at the turn as she birdied the first two holes and bounced back from a miscue on No. 4 with another birdie on the sixth.

Oh looked poised to dominate No. 1 the way she did the previous round but found it a lot tougher, scrambling to recover from mishits that led to a triple-bogey. She recovered with a birdie on the next then picked up another stroke on No. 6, only to yield it on the seventh.

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