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Miguel Tabuena fights back, grabs PGT Luisita lead with 71

Miguel Tabuena salvaged a 71 in a virtual reprise of his first-round act and took his familiar role as Philippine Golf Tour leader halfway through the ICTSI Luisita Championship in Tarlac.

Tabuena overcame another wobbly start at the tight Luisita layout with a strong rebound in the sweltering heat, birdying two of the last five holes at the front to save a 34-37 and seize control of the field that had started to get back into the groove two rounds into the circuit following a year-long hiatus.

“I got off to a really bad start again. At one point, I was 3-over already but I managed to fight back and shoot one-under,” said Tabuena, whose four-under 140 total netted him a one-stroke lead over erstwhile frontrunner Michael Bibat and a steady Nilo Salahog, who matched 141 outputs after a 73 and 70, respectively.

With Marvin Dumandan fighting back with a 69 to move to fourth at 142, and the fancied pair of Tony Lascuña and Clyde Mondilla assembling identical 143s after a 69 and 71, respectively, for joint fifth, the P2 million kickoff leg of this year’s PGT put up by ICTSI could be heading to a frenetic finish Friday.

And back in the title hunt is Tabuena, who bucked a two-over card after three holes to shoot a 69 Wednesday and reeled back again on early backside mishaps on Wednesday – a bogey on No. 10 and a double-bogey on the 14th. But like in the first round, the three-time winner here, including the Philippine Open in 2015, recouped with birdies on Nos. 15 and 18 then broke a run of pars at the front with birdies on Nos. 4 and 8.

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“The game is not where it’s supposed to be, very rusty. But I guess everyone here is not in their A-game because we haven’t been playing,” said Tabuena. “Hopefully my game begins to get better and better.”

He also stressed the need to re-energize given the tough conditions at the onset of summer.

“Just want to stay hydrated and make sure I’ll have enough energy for the next two days,” he said.

But at least five players of varying skills stayed within striking distance of the new leader, including Bibat, who survived a wild frontside ride but caved in when the going got tougher and hotter in the last nine holes.

Leader by one over Tabuena with an opening 69, Bibat birdied two of the last three holes at the front to save a 35 in a topsy-turvy start marred by two bogeys and a double bogey against three other birdies as he held sway with a four-under overall total.

But he bogeyed the 10th, muffed a couple of birdie chances then dropped another stroke on the challenging par-3 17th to close out with a birdie-less backside for a 35-38.

Salahog, hardly showing the ill-effects of a long layoff, birdied Nos. 9 and 10 for the second straight day and his back-to-back feat from No. 3 negated his miscues on Nos. 6 and 18 as he put in a 34-36 in a big follow-up to his opening 71.

“I’ve been hitting it pretty good and though I missed some putts, I also made quite some, including a couple of par-saves,” said Salahog, who tied for ninth in the last PGT leg at Eagle Ridge in March 2021 before the tour took a long break.

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Dumandan, a former national standout out to snap a long title spell, broke a par-game at the front with four birdies in the first seven holes at the back. He could’ve joined Bibat and Salahog at second but bogeyed the 17th.

Lascuña also served notice of his title bid, dishing out a bogey-free 69 that pulled him with three strokes off Tabuena with Mondilla likewise pressing his own drive in the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. with a one-under card anchored on two birdies in the last three holes at the front for a 35-36.

“The course is too long for me, but I’m getting better although I still need to polish my (putting) stroke to contend on Friday,” said Lascuña, one of the most dominant players on tour before the pandemic disrupted play the last two years.

Rookie pro Sean Ramos faltered with a 73 after a 71 and dropped to seventh at 144 while Jhonnel Ababa blew a four-under card after six holes at the back that put him in the crowded leaderboard as he made four bogeys and had a double bogey on No. 2 to finish with a 74. He fell to joint eighth at 145 with Jay Bayron and Reymon Jaraula, who matched par 72s, and Zanieboy Gialon, who tripped with a 73.

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