Rufino Bayron went on a birdie-binge midway through then pounced on Tony Lascuña and Jhonnel Ababa’s late foldup to storm to a four-stroke lead on a five-under 67 in the third round of the ICTSI Splendido Classic in Tagaytay on Saturday.
Bayron blew an overnight one-stroke edge but fought back from two down with a four-birdie splurge in a five-hole stretch from No. 7 to regain the lead. He then pulled away as Lascuña limped with a triple-bogey on the par-4 13th for a 71 and Ababa reeled back with bogeys on Nos. 13 and 15 for a 70.
He birdied the 18th to cap a 34-33 card for a four-stroke cushion over new pursuers Clyde Mondilla and Mars Pucay, moving 18 holes away from snapping a long title spell with a 12-under 204 aggregate in the $100,000 championship sponsored by ICTSI.
Despite a huge lead, Bayron remains wary of his chances and a slew of rivals ready to pounce on the slightest miscue for a shot at the top $17,500 purse in the second leg of the inaugural PGT Asia Tour.
“No lead is safe here at Splendido, especially in the presence of the wind,” said Bayron, who last won at Orchard in the 2015 Philippine Golf Tour season. “But I’ll still do what I’ve been doing in the first three days – play it steady and be consistent.”
Mondilla, seeking to atone for a missed cut stint in the region’s newest circuit’s kickoff leg at Southwoods last month, eagled No. 11 and hit four birdies against a lone bogey to match Bayron’s five-under card in another scorching day at Taal Splendido. The Del Monte ace, winner of two legs on the ICTSI PGT, pooled a 208 to tie Pucay, one of the sponsors’ invitees in the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
The veteran Pucay, also out to end a long title drought, gunned down nine birdies to negate his three bogeys and turn in the day’s best 66 as he earned a spot in the championship flight for the first time in a long, long while.
Lascuña, who bounced back from a bogey opening with an eagle on No. 2 and four birdies in the next seven holes, took control with a superb 31. But as Bayron struck back with those cluster of birdies linking both nines, Lascuña lost his poise and bogeyed No. 12 then dropped three-strokes on the next on an errant drive, a poor third shot and a flawed approach. He reached the green in five and two-putted.
Lascuña, also winner of two legs on the PGT, birdied No. 16 but bogeyed the finishing hole for the second straight day to drop to fourth with Ababa, who made four birdies against two bogeys for a 35-35, at 209.
Thai Pasavee Lertvelai came through with a third straight under-par card, a 69 but the PGT Asia Tour Q-School topnotcher at Luisita stood six strokes behind at 210 in a tie with Rene Menor, who carded a second straight 71, Arnold Villacencio, who shot a bogey-free 69, and Aussie DJ Loypur, who fired a 68.
Elmer Salvador, who won the PGT leg here last year, also eagled No. 11 but could only finish with a 71 for a 211 and solo 10th in the event backed by Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Champion, Summit Mineral Water, K&G Golf Apparel, BDO, Sharp, KZG, PLDT and M.Y. Shokai Technology, Inc.
Ranged against new rivals in the final day, Bayron would rather keep his game plan and target to himself but hinted at not forcing the issue given the condition of the course and a host of local contenders and two foreign aces eager to launch their make-or-break in what looms to be a thrilling final round shootout among the best in the fold.
“I won’t press to go low tomorrow (today). I think I’ve got a good lead. Pero kung may humabol, wala na akong magagawa. Kung ano ibigay ng Panginoon, tatanggapin ko,” said Bayron.