Dabawenyo Elmer Salvador put on a strong windup to check an impending skid and shoot a five-under 67, gaining a one-stroke lead over Anthony Fernando, Elmer Saban and Rolando Marabe at the start of the P1 million ICTSI Tagaytay Midlands Challenge yesterday.
Salvador used his power off the tee to birdie two of the last three holes, both par-5s, and negate his bogeys on Nos. 11 and 15 that momentarily slowed down a fast start of 31 spiked by a three-birdie string from No. 6 of Tagaytay Midlands’ unpredictable putting surface.
More importantly, the 67 – and the lead – put the 43-year-old shotmaker on track of a second leg victory on the circuit with the five other stage winners failing to match his hot start at the up-and-down Tagaytay Midlands layout.
Jay Bayron, winner at ICTSI John Hay, turned in a 70, Calatagan leg runaway champion Tony Lascuna, Sherwoond Hills stage ruler Miguel Tabuena, and Que, who ruled the ICTSI Orchard leg, carded similar 71s, while Michael Bibat, who scored a breakthrough win at ICTSI Rancho Palos Verdes, hobbled with a 73 in winter rules.
“Medyo maganda patama at nag-click ang putting,” said the soft-spoken Salvador, who beat Que in a final round shootout to retain the Aboitiz Invitational crown in Cebu last month.
Though building a big cushion over his fancied rivals, Salvador still faced a tough challenge in the last two rounds of the 54-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. with three players just a stroke behind and three others lying two strokes farther back with 69s.
Fernando, always a contender but never a winner, put himself in early contention again with a 68, this time confident of putting up a strong finishing kick lacking in his past campaigns, notably at Aboitiz and the recent ICTSI Classic.
“I just went for the fairway and tried to set up birdie chances,” said Fernando, a product of the Ateneo Golf Foundation who hit five birdies against one bogey. “I just hope to put it all together until the final day,”
Saban and Marabe, who have languished in the lower half of the Order of Merit ranking with poor finishes in the first nine legs of the circuit sponsored by ICTSI, also knocked down a pair of 68s to join Fernando at second, both hoping to sustain their impressive start.
Saban preserved a bogey-free round of 34 34 spiked by a couple of scrambling pars while Marabe bucked a late tee-time to likewise shoot two 34s highlighted by three birdies on the last four holes at the front.
Three lesser-fancied bets stood at 69, including Randy Garalde, Nilo Salahog and Edward Reyes, while Bayron led the 70 scorers who includd Carl Santos-Ocampo, Gerald Rosales, Mhark Fernando, Charles Hong, Christopher delos Santos and Korean Byron Cho.
“My driving is quite okay but I missed a lot of putts because the greens are hard to read,” said Que, who led the big group of one-under par scores. Four behind, the former Philippine Open champion and three-time Asian Tour leg winner said he needs to shoot a pair of 67s to get a crack at the crown worth P200,000.
Joining Que, Lascuna and Tabuena at 15th place are Jessie Balasabas, Benjie Magada, Mars Pucay and Rey Pagunsan while Orlan Sumcad, Jhonnel Ababa, Albin Engino and Ferdie Aunzo matched par 72s,
The other backers of the event are Nike Golf, Srixon, Custom Clubmakers, Pacsports, Cleveland Golf, Callaway, Ping, Mizuno, Empire Golf and Sports Shop, FootJoy, Titleist, Sharp and BMW.(pr)