Pagdanganan, Ardina face off in Women's PGA

MANILA, Philippines, June 23 ------ Bianca Pagdanganan and Dottie Ardina get paired in an LPGA major championship for the first time, hoping to play pressure-free and dish out a start that could spark a drive in a star-studded KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The tournament reels off Thursday in Bethesda, Maryland (Friday, Manila time).

The world’s elite are all geared up for the blue-ribbon event — the season’s third major — which doubles the size of its purse to a whopping $9 million. The winner will pocket $1.35 million, and the competition will guarantee four days of battle of shotmaking, iron play, putting and nerves at the daunting 6,740-yard Congressional Country Club layout. The top 70 plus ties will advance to the weekend play.

World No. 1 Jin Young Ko is coming in fresh and ready after skipping last week’s Meijer Classic, while No. 2 Nelly Korda is all set for her title-defense following a joint eight-place finish in the US Women’s Open and a runner-up finish last week after a two-month hiatus. But the rest of the 156-player starting field have all toughened up, including ICTSI teammates Pagdanganan and Ardina, who drew Germany’s Caroline Masson in the 9:17 a.m. flight on No. 10.

Pagdanganan blew a fine start of 67 at the Blythefield Country Club course in the Meijer Classic, dropping out of contention with a pair of 72s before finishing at tied 49th on a closing 70. But she exudes confidence heading to this week’s battle, hopeful her power game will click not just in the first two rounds but all throughout, along with her short game and putting.

Ardina missed last week’s cut by just one stroke and that should be enough to motivate her although she will have a lot of working out to do with her rescue shots to compensate for her lack in length. She is way down at No. 48 with a 244.30-yard driving norm. In contrast, Pagdanganan is at No. 3 with 276.552-yard clip while Yuka Saso is at No. 5 with a 275.288-yard average.

Saso also seeks redemption after failing to advance in the US Women’s Open, which she ruled last year, and in the Meijer Classic with the former Asian Games double gold medalist and two-time winner on the LPGA of Japan Tour, who turned 21 last Monday, drawing Yealimi Noh and Brittany Altomare at 1:34 p.m., also at the backside of Congressional.

In other marque pairings, Korda slugs it out with multi-major winner Inbee Park and Brooke Henderson at 78:33 a.m. on No. 1; Meijer Classic playoff winner and Chevron Championship titlist Jennifer Kupcho mixes it up with Ally Ewing and So Yeon Ryu at 7:44 a.m., also at the front; and Ko launching her drive at 8:06 a.m. on the first hole with Angela Stanford and Matilda Castren. “I don’t think I’ve changed a bunch in the past year,” said Korda, who dominated last year’s PGA in Atlanta, beating Lizette Salas by three. “I think I’ve just become a little bit more consistent and confident that I can win a major championship. But I’m not going to put much pressure on myself, I’ll just enjoy every moment and I think the people that play the best enjoy themselves the most on the course,” she added.