Jhonnel Ababa turned a horrible start into an explosive windup, banging in a rare double-eagle on No. 10 on his way to a four-under 68 and a two-stroke lead over erstwhile leader Tony Lascuña and Micah Shin in the third round of the ICTSI Splendido Classic at the Splendido Taal Golf Club in Tagaytay on Friday.
Ababa overcame a four-over start after four holes, including a double-bogey 7 on No. 2 as he racked up five birdies and gunned down an albatross on the par-5 10th on a brilliant 3-wood second shot from 255 yards that landed on the green, rolled sideways and into the cup.
The former amateur standout, who last won on the ASEAN PGA Tour in Malaysia in 2014, actually headed to the green with no idea of his feat and even took a step back when tournament director Bong Igaya told him that it went out of bounds.
“I really can’t believe it went it but it did and that sparked me up all the more,” said Ababa, who bounced back from that faulty start with birdies on Nos. 5 and 7 then followed up his double-eagle exploit with birdies on Nos. 11, 13 and 16.
With Lascuña failing to sustain a solid second round 66 and sputtered with a closing 38 for a 74, Ababa battled back from 4-down to 2-up with a 54-hole aggregate of 207 in the P2 million event sponsored by ICTSI.
“Despite my poor start, I played pressure-free and gained more confidence after I made that double-eagle,” said Ababa, who also hit an albatross in the Indonesia ADT in 2012.
But what Ababa wants to hit now is a first paydirt in two years and it may not need another albatross to anchor his bid but a gutsy final round stand against one of the most feared players in the fold.
“Just two down, kaya pa yan (I can still do it),” said Lascuña after signing up a 74 that dropped him to second at 209 in a tie with a steady Shin of the US, who carded a 71 in hot but windy condition.
Rey Pagunsan, who stayed in contention in the first two days, shot better than many-time former national teammate Lascuña with a 73 but still fell to fourth at 210 in a tie with Elmer Salvador, who missed joining Lascuña and Shin at second with a final hole bogey.
Six down after 36 holes, Salvador rattled three straight birdies from No. 2 added another on the eighth and threatened with a tap-in birdie on the 10th. But the reticient Davaoeño shotmaker, seeking to snap a year-long title spell, missed a couple of birdie chance and missed the green on the 18th and failed to save a seven-footer for par.
Like Lascuña and Pagunsan, Korean Seok Jun Min also wavered at the back, dropping a stroke on the 18th for a 72 and solo sixth at 211 while Aussie Peter Stojanovski fired a 71 to tie two-leg winner Jay Bayron, who fumbled with a 73, at 212, five shots off Ababa heading to the final 18 holes of the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Summit Mineral Water, Srixon, Pacsports, TaylorMade, Sharp and Champion.
Michael Bibat continued to stumble after an opening 68, barely recovering from a second round 74 with a 72 for a 214 for ninth while Paul Echavez, who moved into contention with a 67 Thursday, birdied the first two holes but cracked at the back with a 41, finishing with a 75 and slipping to joint 10th with Mars Pucay, who carded a 71 for 215.