Far from reaching peak form, Miguel Tabuena still flourished and got to the top with a scorching finish, birdying the last three holes to shoot a six-under 66 and get past Clyde Mondilla at the start of the ICTSI Splendido Taal Championship in Laurel, Batangas, Tuesday.
Mondilla, in an earlier flight, took command the majority of the way with a seven-under card after 14 holes before settling for a 67 on a couple of late mishaps at Splendido Taal Golf Club as the field played preferred lies due to wet course following days of rain.
Tabuena, who beat Mondilla on the second playoff hole to claim the ICTSI Luisita crown last March, also made a run of four birdies in a five-hole stretch from No. 7 but reeled back with a wet bogey on the 13th before closing out with a blistering run of birdies for a 34-32 that put him on a very familiar place.
“I didn’t really hit my best. I got to a very slow start and didn’t birdie the early holes. But I got it going on No. 8 and was able to make some grounds (after the bogey) by birdying the last three holes,” said the two-time Philippine Open champion Tabuena, also a two-time winner here at Splendido.
Mondilla, who marked his runner-up finishes at Luisita and Caliraya with final round rallies, had set his title drive-in motion in the P2 million event with a fiery start but lost his momentum at the finish, bogeying Nos. 15 and 18 for a 33-34.
“I had a solid frontside, hit all the fairways, and even missed three birdie chances inside five feet. But I lost my feel and momentum in the last four holes,” rued the 2019 Philippine Open champion at The Country Club, who overshot the par-4 15th and failed to return a long par-putt then came up short of the closing hole, another par-4, and missed a six-footer for par.
A slew of fancied bets kept the duo within sight, including Dutch Guido Van der Valk, who bucked an opening-hole bogey with five birdies in the next 14 on his way to a 68.
“The greens were a little bit faster than we were in practice. So, it took a little time to get used to that. But after that, I hit the ball really well and didn’t get into too much trouble,” said Van Der Valk, who edged Mondilla by one to snatch the Country Club Invitational crown in 2020.
In control of the field, Tabuena expects to have complete control of his game in Wednesday’s second round in an attempt to build a big cushion heading to the last 36 holes of the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
“Nothing will change, same game plan,” he said. “Let’s see what happens.”
Tony Lascuña also wants to make things happen after putting himself in early contention in the 72-hole championship put up by ICTSI with five birdies against two bogeys for a 69 and a share of fourth with Art Arbole and Dino Villanueva while Eric Gallardo fired a solid 70 to join Joenard Rates, Reymon Jaraula and top amateur Ryan Monsalve at seventh.
“I’m good and I like my chances,” said the multi-titled Lascuna, also out to make up for his tied for 15th place finish at Caliraya.
Ira Alido fought back from a three-over card after five holes with four birdies in the last 10 as he saved a 71 for a share of 11th with Ferdie Aunzo, Jerson Balasabas, Paul Echavez, Rolando Marabe Jr. and amateur Perry Bucay.
Matching par 72s were legend Frankie Miñoza, Dan Cruz, Rico Depilo, Albin Engino, Rene Menor, Sean Ramos and Alfredo Repato.
Michael Bibat hit a three-birdie run from No. 2 but made a quadruple bogey on the par-5 11th on a wild drive and a couple of errant iron shots, ending up with a 74, the same output put in by Zanieboy Gialon, who dominated the Caliraya Springs Championship last month but struggled with poor putting and fumbled with three bogeys against a lone birdie.