BACOLOD – Title-hungry Arnold Villacencio flubbed a birdie-putt from two feet on No. 8 and settled for a four-under 66, dropping into a tie with Elmer Salvador, one stroke ahead of fancied Tony Lascuna and obscure Chris Mamaril at the start of the P1 million Negros Occidental Classic here, Wednesday.
Eager to sink the putt from just a tap-in distance, Villacencio instead rushed his stroke, the ball lipping the cup to his dismay, stopping him from seizing the solo lead for the first time while enabling the steady Salvador to grab a piece of it.
“I was about to pick up the ball from the hole but it lipped out,” said Villacencio, whose late-hole miscue marred an otherwise blazing frontside finish that saw him birdie the first three holes inside four feet for a 32-34 card at the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club course.
Still, it was an impressive opener for the Fernando Air Base Golf Club bet in Lipa City, Batangas, who hit two birdies against a bogey at the back before blitzing the first nine holes of the par-70 Marapara layout with solid driving and superb approach shots.
Four flights behind, Salvador outgunned Lascuña in an early clash of the favorites in the 10th leg of the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour, negating his bogey mishap on No. 7 with five birdies, including on the par-3 8th which Villacencio bogeyed to cap a 33-33 round.
Lascuna didn’t fare bad either despite getting outshot by Salvador with the reigning back-to-back Order of Merit champion and winner of two legs in this year’s circuit sponsored by International Container Terminals Services, Inc. gunning down four birdies against a bogey at the back to wrest early control. But after another birdie on No. 6, he also dropped a shot on No. 8 to slip to joint third with Mamaril at 67.
Mamaril, down at No. 57 in the current OOM ranking with poor finishes after nine legs of the tour organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., also sizzled on his homeward trip at the front, firing three birdies from long range against a bogey for a 32 to emerge the surprise bet with a 67.
Jhonnel Ababa, winless since racking up three leg victories in 2012, put himself in early contention with a 68 while pro-am winner Anthony Fernando turned in a one-under 69 to tie Erwin Arcillas, Ferdie Aunzo and one-time winner Michael Bibat at sixth.
Cassius Casas struggled while trying to keep the momentum of his one-stroke victory over Salvador in last week’s ICTSI Iloilo Golf Challenge, missing a couple of birdie chances from close range and finishing with a one-birdie-one-bogey stint for a 70.
Other even par scorers were Paul Echavez, Dante Becierra, Orlan Sumcad, Carl Santos-Ocampo, Jessie Balasabas, Korean Gyuha Park and Zanie Boy Gialon, who nipped Lascuna in a playoff in the rain-shortened edition of this event two years ago.
His confidence boosted by a joint fourth place finish in Iloilo, Villacencio birdied No. 10, dropped a stroke on No. 13, rolled in a six-footer for another birdie on the 17th before rattling off three straight birdies from No. 1. He banged in an eight-footer on the fifth to go five-under but bungled the rare chance for the solo lead on the eighth.
“It was just plain overconfidence,” rued Villacencio, who had two third-place efforts for his best finish in a six-year pro career.
Other backers o the event are Nike Golf, Pacsports, Srixon, FootJoy, It’s More Fun in the Philippines, Callaway, Mizuno, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Sharp and KZG with Balls, Pinoygolfer.com, Inquirer Golf and ABS-CBN Sports+Action as media partners.(pr)