Guido van der Valk endured a challenging test of will and character on Thursday to card a resilient 68, bringing him one step closer to wrapping up the Philippine Golf Tour season just as he had envisioned.
Playing on a course where birdies were attainable on any given hole, van der Valk found little need to chase birdies down the stretch. He parred the final seven holes, compiling a pair of 34s and extending his two-day, one-stroke lead to two strokes as he headed into the final 18 holes of the ICTSI Mimosa Plus Championship at the Acacia course in Pampanga.
Initially, van der Valk found himself tied with the fast-starting Michael Bibat in the early going, only to yield the lead to Jhonnel Ababa midway through the round. However, the Dutchman regained control with consecutive birdies starting from the 10th hole, ultimately maintaining his position at 16-under 200 with a string of pars. Meanwhile, Bibat struggled with a double-bogey on the 15th, and Ababa’s momentum slowed down with a backside 37 after an eagle-filled 32.
Bibat managed to birdie the par-5 16th for the third consecutive day, matching van der Valk’s four-under card, but remained two shots behind the three-day leader at 202, sharing the position with Ababa (who shot a 69) and Dino Villanueva (who surged from four strokes back with a 66 to join the tie for second).
Keanu Jahns, who birdied three of the last four holes despite back-to-back miscues, equaled Ababa’s course record of 65 to claim fifth place at 203. Elmer Salvador also impressed with a 66 on another hot day, tying with Nilo Salahog (who carded a 69) at 204.
With a fiery final round on the horizon for the top P450,000 prize money, at least seven players remain in contention, including Rupert Zaragosa, Kristoffer Arevalo, and Sean Ramos, who all matched totals of 206 with rounds of 67, 68, and 69, respectively.
“It will be a combination of wedge play and putting. I think that will determine tomorrow’s winner,” said van der Valk, who is eager to secure his first regular PGT leg crown after a winless streak in the first nine legs following his victorious defense of The Country Club Invitational title last February.
“Everyone is playing pretty well, but I think it’s challenging to consistently score low every single day. I’ve been at 16-under for three days, and that’s quite impressive,” added van der Valk, who started with three birdies, recovered from a bogey on No. 7 with birdies on Nos. 10 and 11, reasserting his command of the tournament.
Van der Valk also anticipates that the pin placements will remain as challenging as they have been over the past three days, noting, “You have to play smart and be in the right spot to have a chance for birdie. The way the pins are set, if you miss on the wrong side, you have no chance of making the putt.”
Bibat, who initially tied van der Valk at 13-under by birdieing the first three holes, managed to score six more birdies with superb ball control and putting. However, he couldn’t take the lead due to a couple of double bogeys (on holes 6 and 15) and a bogey on the 13th.
“It’s all about positioning to set up good birdie chances,” Bibat remarked, aiming for a target of 20-under to contend for the title. “I’ll try to make as many birdies as I can tomorrow, especially on the back nine.”
Ababa emphasized that putting would be crucial in the final round and stressed the importance of a strong start, saying, “Putting will be the key here. Let’s go for it right from the beginning.”
Villanueva, the Villamor Philippine Masters winner, was just one stroke behind van der Valk at the midway point of the P2 million event. He momentarily took the lead with a front-nine 32, highlighted by a four-foot eagle putt off a 7-iron second shot from 170 yards on No. 5.
However, he encountered some challenges, including bogeys on the 10th and the 13th, which led to a final score of 69, allowing van der Valk to regain the lead in the tournament organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and supported by Kampfortis Golf, the official apparel of PGTI.
Meanwhile, Villanueva hopes to replicate his scorching start that propelled him to his third-round charge.
He birdied the first five holes, bogeyed the sixth for the second consecutive day, but birdied the ninth for the third time before adding another stroke on No. 12. Like van der Valk and most of the other players, he settled for pars for the remainder of the round, but the powerful journeyman is optimistic that his 66 will ignite his quest for that elusive Tour victory.
“I have no expectations, but I will stick to the plan – producing a good score through solid ball-striking,” said Villanueva, who finished tied for 17th in the last leg of the South Pacific Classic in Davao.