Michael Bibat cracked a mediocre frontside drive with a blistering backside finish, birdying four of the last seven holes to shoot a 68 on Thursday and catch Miguel Tabuena at the helm in the ICTSI Luisita Championship heading to a two-man shootout in Tarlac.
The first-round leader outshot Tabuena in their hunt for birdies at the tight Luisita layout, doubling up the latter’s two-birdie run in the last nine holes to get back into the thick of things and revive his hopes at ending a long title spell on the Philippine Golf Tour.
“It was fun to be able to play and compete against a player of Miguel’s caliber,” said Bibat of his seasoned rival and winner of three titles here at the Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed layout, including the Philippine Open in 2015.
Bracing for a tough final round battle with Tabuena, Bibat has drawn a different approach in an attempt to neutralize the former and nail his first victory since ruling the ICTSI Pueblo de Oro leg in 2013.
“I have to put the ball where I could score. I cannot engage Miguel shot-for-shot given his distance. We also have different clubbing, so I need to put the ball on the right spots and hopefully, the putts will go,” said Bibat, who drilled in a six-footer for birdie on No. 12, banged in a five-footer on the next, holed in another putt from six feet on the 16th then capped his scorching finish with a 30-foot putt on the 18th.
Bibat’s blazing backside 32 thus enabled him to match his solid opening four-under card Tuesday that netted him the first day honors marking the Tour’s resumption after a year-long break. But he stumbled with a roller-coaster one-over card in the next and slipped off the leaderboard in this kickoff leg of the PGT organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Tabuena took charge halfway through the P2 million championship with a plucky 71 Wednesday and looked headed to firming up his lead with a two-under card linking both nines. He, however, muffed a couple of birdie chances on the layout’s long holes but gained a stroke on the challenging par-3 17th to preserve a 69 and tie Bibat at seven-under 209.
“It was a bit better than yesterday (second round) although I still struggled with my drives,” said Tabuena, who overcame a bogey on No. 4 with birdies on Nos. 6, 9. 10 and 17 for a 35-34. “But I’m very happy with my score and hopefully, if I play better tomorrow (today), it should be good enough.”
He also sees a challenging 18-hole duel with the former Asian Games bronze medalist, saying: “He’s one of my good friends on the local tour and it’s always nice to play with him.”
Sean Ramos joins the joint leaders in the championship flight but the rookie pro stood four strokes off the pace with a 213 after equaling Tabuena’s four-birdie, one-bogey round.
“I’m very happy with how I played. I kept it steady, hit the fairways and greens, and waited for putts to go,” said Ramos, who hopes to do an encore and fuel his drive for a crown in his first pro tournament.
“My plan is to do the same thing – try to be as steady as I can and be patient with my putts,” he said.
Amateur Perry Bucay surprised the pro field with a tournament-best 66, spiked by a stirring five-birdie binge from No. 6. He added another on the 12th for a 32-34 that lifted him from joint 15th to joint fourth at 214 with former Philippine Open champion Clyde Mondilla, who carded a 71.
Zanieboy Gialon shot a 70 to tie Tony Lascuña, who slowed down with a 72 after a 69, at sixth at 215 while Reymon Jaraula fired a 71 for a 216 and Marvin Dumandan bombed out with a 76 to tumble from fourth to joint ninth at 218 with Jay Bayron, who carded a 73.