A couple of top guns out to snap a long spell took charge with identical 69s while a pair of amateurs, a legend, and another duo of former amateur hotshots matched 70s in a crowded start to the ICTSI Pradera Championship at Pradera Verde Golf and Country Club in Lubao, Pampanga on Tuesday.
With the wind at a manageable level, Angelo Que and Tony Lascuña produced three-under cards in varying fashions in separate flights in dark skies with the former banking on his length and putting to string a 34-35 and the latter forging ahead with his trusted 3-wood and irons for a 36-33.
“I had a good day, putted well, hit a few bad shots but was able to recover pretty good,” said the multi-titled Que, a three-time former Asian Tour winner, who last won a Philippine Golf Tour event in 2019.
The amiable former Philippine Open champion actually bucked a two-bogey-one-bogey card at the backside of the long, well-maintained layout measuring 7,262 yards but hit back-to-back birdies from No. 16, added another on the first hole then bounced back from a mishap on No. 2 with another pair of birdies from No. 4.
He did miss some fairways and greens but found a way to finish with 25 putts and put himself in early contention in the P2 million season-ending PGT tournament put up by ICTSI.
“I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing – hit the fairways and greens and hopefully hole in more putts and avoid bogeys,” said Que, who is also using this tournament as part of his final buildup for the LIV-backed Asian Tour events in Morocco and Egypt starting next week.
To make up for his lack in length, Lascuña banked on his 3-wood and long irons and seized control with amateur Elee Bisera with a four-under card after 10 holes, also from the back. He fumbled with back-to-back bogeys from No. 2 on a couple of mishits but recovered a stroke on the par-5 ninth to catch his fellow Manila Southwoods’ bet at the helm.
“The course is too long for me and the greens are also tough. But I was able to hit five birdies against two bogeys. So, I’m very happy,” said Lascuna, a four-time Order of Merit winner, including three straight from 2012, who last won at Riviera two years ago.
Despite being winless the last couple of years, Lascuna is enjoying top form, coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes at Eagle Ridge-Aoki and Riviera, the last, losing to Juvic Pagunsan in sudden death three weeks ago.
But a curious mix of pursuers stood just a stroke behind as Frankie Miñoza flashed vintage form to fire a 70, which former amateur stalwart and flightmate Mars Pucay, former Philippine Open champion Gerald Rosales and Bisera and long-hitting fellow amateur Josh Jorge matched in separate flights.
Minoza and Pucay both said they didn’t expect to figure in the early chase but Rosales and the two young guns did even as Splendido Taal leg winner Guido Van der Valk and Jhonnel Ababa and Mhark Fernando shot 71s to likewise put themselves in the early mix in the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
“My expectation is very low,” said the reticent Miñoza. “I was playing very good, made three birdies against bogey. It’s a good start but I just came here to enjoy the game.”
So did Pucay, one of the best talents to have come out of the amateur ranks but struggled in the pro circuit in the last decade or so.
“I just want to play, no expectations. The course is long but I made a number of putts from outside the green,” said Pucay, who nevertheless hoped to polish his short game in the next three days.
Bisera actually sizzled with a four-birdie binge at the back, brimming with utmost confidence after clinching a berth in the national team vying in next month’s Nomura Cup at Southwoods. But he fell off the leaderboard just as quickly as he stumbled with bogeys on Nos. 4 and 6 to slip to joint third but remained upbeat of his chances.
“I am confident with my game – driving, irons and putting. I’ve been playing good lately and looking forward to contending here,” said the Davaoeno bet in Filipino.
Jorge, a noted power-hitter, also from Southwoods, overcame a two-bogey, one-birdie card after 10 holes as he birdied three of the last six holes for a 36-34, eager to rebound from a foldup at Riviera where he contended in the second round only to fade in the last two days and end up at tied 31st.
Clyde Mondilla, the last winner here before the pandemic, blew a three-under card at the back with three frontside bogeys as he lost his touch off the mound, winding up with a 72 for joint 11th with Enrico Gallardo, Keanu Jahns, and Justin Quiban.
“Lost my rhythm and touch from the tee at the front and missed some fairways. But it’s just three strokes and there are still three rounds left, so I think I’m still at it,” said the 2019 Philippine Open champion at The Country Club in Filipino.
Also in the early hunt are Ira Alido, Art Arbole, Jay Bayron, and Ivan Monsalve, who all carded 73s, while Fidel Concepcion, Kuresh Samanodi, Reymon Jaraula, and Dino Villanueva matched 74s.