Juvic Pagunsan closed out with back-to-back birdies to fire a three-under 69 and force a three-way logjam at the helm with little-known Elmer Saban and fellow Davaoeno Ferdie Aunzo at the start of the ICTSI Apo Golf Invitational at the Apo Golf and Country Club in Davao City, Wednesday.
It was a far cry from his solid 66 start last year but it proved just enough to put Pagunsan’s title-retention bid in motion in this eighth stage of the circuit which he dominated via a six-shot romp over Artemio Murakami and Jerome Delariarte.
Saban took the cudgels for the fancied homegrown bets who turned in so-so rounds in the opener of the P1 million event sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc., shooting a three-under par 69 to find himself
in the company of two of the most feared players on the tour.
“Considering my condition, the score was good enough,” said Pagunsan, who took antibiotics Tuesday for a sore throat, in Filipino.
Saban, still searching for the big one against the big guns of pro golf, gunned down four birdies inside eight feet to negate his lone bogey mishap on the par-4 No. 12 in his best start in years.
He strung up nines of 34-35, matching Aunzo’s own version of a 35-34 fashioned out in the early morning flight.
“I hit the ball quite well. I think I’ll have a good chance,” said the soft-spoken Saban in Filipino.
Aunzo, the former amateur hotshot, rammed in five birdies, including back-to-back from No. 8, against two bogeys as he likewise put himself in contention for a second leg win after ruling the ICTSI Royal Northwoods tilt last year.
The troika took a one-stroke lead over Jun Bernis, who birdied the last two holes for a two-under 70, the same output turned in by obscure Ebarra Quiachon, who birdied Nos. 16 and 18 to stay within striking distance.
Cassius Casas, one of the fancied local talents who has yet to win at Apo, recovered from a 37 start at the back as he shot three birdies against a bogey at the front to card a one-under 71 for solo sixth.
Rookie pro Antonio Asistio II matched par 72 to lead the even par scorers who included Ramil Bisera, Richard Abaring, Conrado Alferez, Severiano Abaring and Jhonnel Ababa, who emerged the best among the 20 amateurs seeing action in the 54-hole event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Elmer Salvador, the other home bet who honed their skills at the tight Apo layout, had a rollercoaster round 37-36 that featured four birdies but marred by three bogeys and a wet double-bogey on the par-5 No. 6 to lead the 73 scorers who included Tony Lascuna, Demetrio Sanchez, Orlan Sumcad and Joenard Rates and amateur Zanie Boy Gialon.
Lascuna, another homegrown bet coming off a playoff loss to Benjie Magada at the ICTSI Orchard leg two weeks ago, birdied his opening hole on No. 10 but faltered along the way, fumbling with three bogeys before holing out with
six-foot birdie putt on No. 18.
He parred the last nine holes at the front, flubbing a couple of birdie putts from close range and missing the chance to close in on the leaders with two rounds left in the event backed by byMJ Carr Golf Management, Jaguar, Land Rover, Studio 23, Balls TV, Srixon/Cleveland Golf, Callaway Golf, Odyssey and Golf Punk and media partners Business Mirror, Inquirer Golf Monthly, A Round of Golf, Pinoygolfer.com and Omnisource.
The other favorites for the top P200,000 purse also struggled under tough playing conditions with Magada shooting a 74 in a tie with Artemio Murakami, Robert Pactolerin, Rufino Bayron, Peter Minoza, Zaldy Salvador, Rey Bisera, Erwin Vinluan, Dante Torres and amateur Paul Echavez.(pr)