Dabawenyo Elmer Salvador birdied Nos. 16 and 17 for the second straight day and preserved an eagle-spiked four-under 68 to wrest a two-stroke lead over an equally charging Ian Keenan of England halfway through the Aboitiz Invitational at the wet Cebu Country Club yesterday.
Salvador came out of a 30-minute delay due to lightning with an eagle on the par-5 12th for a four-under card but fumbled with back-to-back bogeys from No. 12, needing to come up with those late birdies inside six feet to finish with 68 and a 135 and on track for a first back-to-back title romp on the Asian Development Tour.
“It rained hard in one stretch and made it tougher for us. Medyo manlalamig ka talaga. But I just stayed focused,” said Salvador in Filipino, now 36 holes away from retaining the crown he won in runaway fashion over Tony Lascuna last year.
But Keenan pressed his bid with the day’s best five-under 67, staying just two strokes off the Filipino ace shotmaker at 137 while Korean Park Il-hwan and Anthony Fernando stood another shot behind at 136 after a 68 and 70, respectively, guaranteeing a down-to-the-wire battle in this eighth leg of the ADT sponsored by Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Inc.
“My ball striking was very, very good and didn’t hole any putts longer than 10 or 12 feet. I just kept it close all day,” said Keenan, coming off a 22nd place finish in last week’s Jakarta Classic won by American James bowen.
The 27-year-old Englishman birdied two of the last four holes to complte a 33-34 round and join Salvador and any from Fernando or Park in today’s featured flight in a pivotal third round.
As American Brian Locke, who surged past Salvador at nightfall to claim the first round honors with a 66 Wednesday, found the going tough in morning play under sun and rain and hobbled with a 73, Salvador bucked all the odds to seize control of the elite field at nine-under total.
Park, who finished joint 10th at Glenmarie Masters in Kuala Lumpur last March in his first and only ADT tournament thus far, rattled off three straight birdies to close out his backside stint then snapped a slew of pars with another birdie on the ninth for a 68.
Fernando, the former national champion still in search of a breakthrough pro win in four years, hit two birdies and a par to close out his interrupted first round play early Thursday with a 68. He added a 70 to tie Park at second then stressed the need to stick to his game plan to get a crack at the crown.
“I have to be focused and play the course intelligently,” said Fernando, out to end a string of runner-up finishes off mediocre closing round performances, including a second place effort at the Asean PGA Tour leg in Malaysia last January. He’s been using his trusted 4-iron off the mound instead of driver to tackle the narrow fairways of CCC, leading to four birdies against two bogeys in another challenging day.
Locke, who annexed his maiden ADT victory in Malaysia late last year, stood at 139, dropping into a tie with surging Carl Santos-Ocampo (68), Angelo Que (69) and Australian Darren Tan (71).
Jun Bernis also rallied with a 69 to tie England’s Peter Richardson, who blew a five-under card for a 69, at 140 while Lascuna also rebounded with a 69 for a 141 in a tie with Dutch Guido Van der Valk and Swede Malcolm Kokocinski, who both had 72s.
The 27-year-old Locke failed to come up with a follow up to a big start in his first ADT tournament in the season in his first stint at CCC, dropping two strokes on the par-4 17th which he birdied at dusk Wednesday. He made a 38 at the backside turn then hit two birdies against a bogey in the last three holes at the front for that 73.
Four shots behind, Que said he liked his chances going into the final 36 holes but rued at least a couple of missed birdie opportunities from six feet that could’ve pulled him within Salvador.
“I’m doing well, hitting 14-15 fairways and greens and making some good up-and-down,” said Que, seeking his second victory in the season after routing the field with a flawless eagle-spiked 62 in the final round at ICTSI Orchard Championship.
Missing the top 50 plus ties cut at three-over 147 were Bowen (71-148), Ferdie Aunzo (76-148), Mhark Fernando (74-150) and Cassius Casas (74-151).(pr)