Fidel Concepcion birdied the first two holes then endured a virtual survival test right in the first round to wrest early control in the ICTSI Riviera Championship with a 69 at the Langer course in Silang, Cavite on Tuesday.
While the top guns pressed their bids in a windy start then faded in punishing conditions at the dreaded par-71 layout, Concepcion held on in a roller-coaster ride midway through and into the finish for a 34-35 round and a two-stroke lead over Anthony Fernando.
He eagled the par-5 10th but double-bogeyed the long par-3 12th then birdied No. 16 to negate an earlier mishap on the ninth and emerge the leader in the P2 million tournament marking the return of the Philippine Golf Tour after a three-month break.
Concepcion limped to 32nd in the last PGT stop at Eagle Ridge-Aoki won by absentee Mike Bibat last July but toughened up on the Asian Development Tour during the lull.
He didn’t have as much success on the Asian Tour farm league with a number of missed cuts and a best 32nd place finish in the Indo Masters Invitational last June. But he used the experience to get into a fine start on a course that saw the early rise and fall of the Tour’s revered players.
“I played very well and happy to be able to play Philippine golf again,” said Concepcion, still in pursuit of a maiden championship. “I had led many times but just couldn’t sustain my game.”
Fernando, the former national champion still in the hunt for the elusive pro crown, produced a rare birdie feat on the tough finishing par-4 hole to salvage a 71 and seize solo second as Kuresh Samanodi bogeyed the last two holes and dropped to joint fifth at 73.
When asked of Concepcion’s game plan in the next three rounds, he said: “I’ll just play to my strength and see what happens.”
Most, however, will need to make things happen today (Wednesday) as the race to the Top 40 plus ties heats up, including Juvic Pagunsan, Angelo Que, Jhonnel Ababa, Sean Ramos, Jobim Carlos, Ivan Monsalve, and Jerson Balasabas, among others.
Pagunsan, back in the local hunt after a Japan Golf Tour stint with Que just last Sunday, rebounded from a bogey-bogey mishap from No. 2 with three birdies in the four-hole stretch from No. 4. But just when he thought he had the course, where he reigned in stormy conditions to cap a four-tournament run in 2019, all figured out again, he stumbled with a double-bogey on No. 10 then made a rare double-par finish on the par-4 11th after twice dumping his wedge shot into the water.
He birdied the 15th to salvage a 75 for joint 17th with four others, including former Philippine Open champion Clyde Mondilla, who hardly recovered from a frontside 40 with a lone backside birdie. Other four-over scorers were Jay Bayron, Arnold Villacencio, and amateur Josh Jorge.
Like Pagunsan, Mondilla, runner-up in the first two legs of this year’s circuit put up by ICTSI and third placer in the third stop at Caliraya Springs, bogeyed Nos. 2 and 3, birdied the fifth but yielded two strokes on the next. He closed out the nine with back-to-back bogeys before birdying the 10th.
Worse was the amiable Que, who tied for fourth with Pagunsan at Eagle Ridge-Aoki but who failed to check a birdie-less frontside 40 with bogeys on Nos. 10 and 11. The three-time Asian Tour winner parred the rest for an uncharacteristic birdie-less 78 that dropped him to joint 32nd with Ababa, Ramos, Rufino Bayron, and Art Arbole.
Carlos, the former Order of Merit champion, skied to a 79 for joint 37th with Johnel Bulawit, Dan Cruz and Ivan Monsalve, barely within the group that will advance to the final 36 holes of the Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.-organized championship.
But a number of fancied bets stayed in the early mix with gutsy rounds with Tony Lascuña fighting back from back-to-back bogeys from No. 11 with a birdie on the 15th to tie longshot Rico Depilo, who three-putted the last hole, at third with 72, while young Ira Alido shot four birdies against six bogeys for a share of fifth at 73 with John Kier Abdon, club pro Marvin Dumandan, Gerald Rosales and Sumanodi.
Alido, who scored his career breakthrough in runaway fashion here last 2020, also struggled with four bogeys against a birdie at the front but rebounded with three birdies against two bogeys in the last 9 holes to get back into the thick of things.
Rupert Zaragosa also led the stellar field with a brilliant frontside 33 but made three bogeys and a double bogey at the back to fall to a share of 10th at three-over.
Zanieboy Gialon, the runaway winner at Caliraya Springs, missed joining Lascuna and company at fourth with a double-bogey on Langer’s signature par-3 17th, ending up with a 74 and into the group of Zaragosa, Jun Bernis, Keanu Jahns, Robert Pactolerin, Dino Villanueva and Guido Van der Valk and amateur Edison Tabalin.
Van der Valk, who edged Luisita leg titlist Miguel Tabuena in sudden death to snare the Splendido Taal leg crown last May, also fumbled at the finish with bogeys on Nos. 16 and 18 to typify the field’s struggle on one of the country’s tough championship courses.