Zanie Boy Gialon overcame a bogey start with a cluster of birdies, finishing with a six-under 66 to wrest a two-stroke lead over Rufino Bayron and Micah Shin at the start of the ICTSI Royal Northwoods Championship at the Royal Northwoods Golf Club in San Rafael, Bulacan on Wednesday.
Rains spawned by Typhoon Luis the past
few days rendered the rolling par-72 soggy and left patches on some greens, forcing the organizing Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. to apply the preferred lies rules again, producing a slew of under-par scores.
Gialon, who went on a slump after scoring two victories in his rookie season on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour in 2012, stood out at the end of a humid day, quickly negating his missed-green mishap on the opening hole with back-to-back birdies from No. 2. He then went on to fire five more birdies to string a pair of 33s and find himself the bewildered leader in the P1.5 million event serving as the 13th leg of the circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
“My short game made the difference but I was also a bit lucky today [yesterday]. I just hope to do this again tomorrow [today]and increase my lead,” said Gialon, who also bucked the tough pin placements with a near-impeccable iron game inside 100 yards that set up a number of birdie chances.
The 25-year-old Gialon was actually flawless with his irons on the four par-3s, which he all birdied inside seven feet, that highlighted his remarkable fightback from a bogey on the par-5 No. 1.
But he will need to toughen up in the next three rounds with a slew of fancied players hot on his trail, including Bayron, the Asian Development Tour and ICTSI Orchard Championship winner who gunned down two birdies on each nine to turn in a bogey-free 68 and tie Shin at second.
Shin, who finished second to Charles Hong in the ICTSI Sherwood Hills Classic last April, birdied the first two holes then closed out with three more in the last five to more than make up for his lone bogey on No. 4 and put himself in early contention in the 72-hole championship backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports Phils. Inc., Srixon, Callaway, Mizuno, Empire Golf, Footjoy, Titleist, Custom Clubmakers, Sharp and KZG.
Jhonnel Ababa, seeking a follow-up to his breakthrough Asean PGA Tour win last month, birdied the 18th to shoot a 69, the same output put in by Hong, who birdied three of the last six holes, Jessie Balasabas, Christopher delos Santos, Cookie La’O and Ferdie Aunzo.
Aunzo, who won the inaugural staging of this event in 2009, missed closing in on Gialon with flubbed birdie putts inside six feet on the last two holes.
Jun Rates, who surprised the field to win the ICTSI John Hay leg last March, birdied two of the last four at the front to card a 70 and tie Mhark Fernando at 10th while 10 others, including Arnold Villacencio, Dutch Guido Van Der Valk, Omar Dungca, Richard Abaring, Paul Echavez, John Kier Abdon, Jun Bernis, Benjie Magada, Anthony Fernando and Elmer Saban matched par 72s.
Marvin Dumandan, who won here in 2010, birdied the last two holes to salvage a 73, but fell seven strokes off Gialon, who nipped Tony Lascuna in a playoff to score his maiden win at ICTSI Negros Occidental in 2012 then dominated the season-ending ICTSI Canlubang Invitational in a superb rookie season.
After going one-under with two early birdies, Gialon knocked down a four-footer on No. 5 then tapped in for another birdie on the seventh. Sustaining his momentum, he rolled in an eight-footer on No. 12, banged in a four-footer on the 15th before drilling a 10-footer on the last par-3 at No. 16.