Tony Lascuna continued to defy the odds on a course where length is key, banking on his accuracy, ball control, and putting to storm ahead by two on a solid 70 halfway through the ICTSI Pradera Verde Championship in Lubao, Pampanga on Wednesday.
He hit all fairways in high winds or against- and cross- with his 250-yard norm, forever relying on his hybrid – and at times 3-wood – in tackling the long par-4s and par-5s while his younger, stronger rivals would pull out and opt for irons. But what makes the good-natured Davaoeno’s game tick and click in big-time championships and on this challenging course is that he always finds a way to give himself chances.
Two strokes clear of Angelo Que, Art Arbole, and Guido Van der Valk at five-under 139, Lascuna now gained another crack at victory in this late stage of a checkered career, leading a pack of power-hitters and a Dutch rival whose game also resembles his.
“This course is really for the long hitters,” insisted Lascuna, a four-time Order of Merit winner on the Philippine Golf Tour, also impressive in the accuracy of his short game that saw him go out of regulation just once.
“But my hybrid has been working quite well– and my putts are going in,” he added.
That’s the scary part of Lascuna’s game. When his putts keep dropping, the titles would keep coming.
He actually flubbed four makeable chances inside seven feet but drilled a clutch one from way out on the 17th, giving him a two-shot cushion heading to moving day of the P2 million championship put up by ICTSI.
But no lead is safe at the well-maintained Pradera Verde as Que stayed in the thick of things at 141 despite slowing down with a 72 after an opening 69; Guido Van der Valk bouncing back from a wobbly frontside 38 with four birdies in a five-hole stretch from No. 12 to save a 70; and unfancied Art Arbole leaned on what he termed as “lucky” streak to put himself in the conversation.
“It wasn’t as good as yesterday but even-par here is still good,” said Que, who made a quiet two-birdie, two-bogey game in tougher conditions.
“Game-plan is still the same – keep (the ball) in play and give myself chances to make birdies,” said the three-time Asian Tour winner priming up for next week’s LIV-backed Asian Tour events in Morocco and in Egypt the following week with Luisita leg winner Miguel Tabuena.
“It was a tough day,” rued Van der Valk, who braced for a day-long struggle after missing the first 10 greens, leading to three bogeys against a birdie. “Lots of short game had to be done.”
He did – with a flourish as he rammed in three straight birdies from No. 12 and added another on the 15th to put himself back in the hunt and redemption after blowing the lead in the early going of the final round and ending up joint fourth at Riviera three weeks ago.
“I started to hit better in the last eight holes and was lucky to shoot a 2-under since I didn’t hit it very well,” said Van der Valk.
Like him, Arbole didn’t see himself contending after dropping two strokes in the first six holes following an opening 73. But back-to-back birdies from No. 7, including one from long range on No. 8, sparked a fiery comeback for the 32-year-old campaigner seeking a top finish in a long while.
“My ball-striking got better at the back – driving, second shot and putting. But it was pure luck to hit four straight birdies,” said Arbole, referring to his binge from No. 10. He yielded another stroke on No. 16 but birdied the next to turn in the tournament-best four-under card.
Jhonnel Ababa missed seizing solo second with a disastrous bunker-bunker shot on the par-4 No. 16 that led to a double bogey, thus stymieing a charge of three birdies in the previous four holes for a second straight 71. He slipped to joint fifth at 142 with Keanu Jahns and amateur and Nomuca Cup-bound Elee Bisera, who shot 70 and 72, respectively.
Reymon Jaraula, a one-time PGT winner at Pueblo de Oro, fired a 69 to gain solo eighth at 143 while Frankie Miñoza wavered with a 74 to slip to joint ninth at 144 with, interestingly, players who matched his remarkable opening round 70 – Mars Pucay, Gerald Rosales and amateur Josh Jorge.
Forty two players, including third amateur Jonas Magcalayo (73-148), advanced to the final 36 holes of the Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.-organized event with former Masters titlist Jerson Balasabas and Mark Alcazar clinching the last two spots at 155 after a 74 and 77, respectively, and the likes of Rufino Bayron (77-158), many-time champion Robert Pactolerin (79-159), former OOM winner Jobim Carlos (83-160) missing the cut in the final regular PGT tournament for the season.