Nilo Salahog maintained control despite facing fierce challenges from a group of contenders, ultimately sinking a clutch birdie to secure a 68 on Thursday.
This performance allowed him to rejoin Justin Quiban at the top of the leaderboard midway through the ICTSI South Pacific Classic, setting the stage for an exciting finish in Davao City.
Salahog, who had impressed with a superb 67 in challenging conditions on Tuesday, continued to excel on the South Pacific course. He recorded a four-birdie streak in the first 12 holes and bounced back from a momentary drop in the lead after a miscue on No. 13 with a birdie on the 17th.
That let him tie Quiban at nine-under 135.
Quiban, pursuing his second Philippine Golf Tour victory, was consistent with rounds of 68 and 67. He expressed confidence in his current form, having recently performed well in various international tournaments.
“I wasn’t expecting to lead, but with the way I’m playing, I feel confident. I believe I can shoot the rounds I’d like to,” said Quiban, who previously won in Binitin, Negros Occidental in 2018 and secured a victory in PGT Asia at Luisita in the same year.
Salahog, aiming for his first Tour victory sponsored by ICTSI, continued to impress with his powerful drives, precise iron play, and putting skills. However, he acknowledged the pressure of competing against a strong field of players.
“Yes, there is pressure because there are many talented players here,” he added.
To overcome this pressure, Salahog emphasized the importance of staying focused and applying the skills he had been honing in recent months as he faces the experienced Asian Tour campaigner in the pivotal third round.
Several other competitors were also positioning themselves for a heated third-round battle, with Marvin Dumandan securing solo third at 137 after a 68, aided by an eagle. Iloilo leg winner Rupert Zaragosa bounced back with a four-under card for a total of 138.
Tony Lascuña, who previously beat Ira Alido by three strokes at this venue to complete a three-victory run in 2019 before the pandemic, re-entered contention with his own 68, totaling 139. Davaoeño Elee Bisera also carded a four-under score, moving to solo sixth place at 140.
Cebu-based Japanese golfer Gen Nagai posted a 70 to tie Keanu Jahns and Dino Villanueva, who both recorded 72s, at 141. Local players Elmer Salvador, who fired a 70, and Jay Bayron and Ferdie Aunzo, who both shot 71s, shared identical scores of 142.
Clyde Mondilla, seeking a third consecutive victory, continued to struggle on the challenging course, finishing with a 71 after a 72 for a total of 143, eight strokes behind the joint leaders.
Mondilla was joined in 13th place by Art Arbole, Francis Morilla, and Jhonnel Ababa, who scored 67, 72, and 74, respectively.
Quiban, as the player to watch in the final two rounds, felt ready to embrace the challenge posed by both seasoned professionals and emerging stars.
“I’ve been in contention for the past few weeks, even outside of the country, so I feel I’m getting used to playing in these conditions. I think it will come down to experience and pure focus,” he said.
However, Quiban also acknowledged the role of luck in dealing with the greens of South Pacific to emerge victorious on Friday.
“One could only get lucky with putting on this type of greens. Honestly, you can’t manage these greens. You will need pure luck, and you just have to read every side and every angle of the putts,” Quiban explained.