Title hungry Dante Becierra and Marvin Dumandan took different routes but produced the same results—a pair of bogey-free, eagle-spiked 66s as the unfancied pair seized a two-stroke lead over Jay Bayron at the start of the ICTSI Summit Point Golf Classic at Summit Point in Lipa, Batangas.
But hot favorite Tony Lascuña stood just three shots behind the joint leaders with a 69 and last-minute entries Elmer Salvador and Miguel Tabuena lay another stroke farther back at 70, guaranteeing a wide-open battle for the crown in the third-to-last leg of the 16-stage circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
Becierra, still in search of a breakthrough win since turning pro in 2010, hit just one birdie in benign condition at the back where he teed off in the first of 23 flights and appeared headed for another so-so start that has marked his winless campaign on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour.
But he made a tap-in birdie on No. 1, drilled in a 16-footer on the third and hit a pitch-in eagle from 20 yards on the par-5 No. 5 to storm ahead of the star-studded field. Though he flubbed a birdie putt from close range on the seventh, he two-putted for another birdie on the par-5 ninth and signed a 31 and a 66.
“I didn’t expect to shoot this low, much less lead this field. My iron play and putting just clicked and hopefully, I could hold on till Saturday,” said Becierra, who has had a couple of Top 10 finishes in what looks like another mediocre campaign this year.
Teeing off 30 minutes behind on No. 1, Dumandan went on a binge early, birdying the first two holes then hacked a superb 3-wood shot from 250 yards that stopped within two feet off the cup for eagle. He banged in another three-footer for birdie on the seventh for a 31 but settled for just one birdie at the back when condition got a little bit tougher.
Still, the flawless 66 put the long-hitting Davaoeno shotmaker in prime position to end a two-year title slump on the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports Phils. Inc., Srixon, Callaway, Mizuno, Empire Golf, Footjoy, Titleist, Custom Clubmakers, Sharp and KZG.
“You have to play loose but steady on this course to course. It’s quite easy to reach the green in regulation but the challenge is on the greens which varies in condition and character,” said Dumandan.
But Bayron, out to snap a spell that started after he snatched the ICTSI Splendido crown from brother Rufino last March, stayed within striking distance at 68 and Lascuña, winner of four legs this year with two runner-up finishes on the Asian Tour last month, stood right behind at 69 in a tie with Paul Echavez, James Lam and Jhonnel Ababa.
Tabuena, runway winner at ICTSI Eastridge and runner-up in Asian Tour’s Yeangder Players Championship, holed out with back-to-back birdies from No. 17 to join the big group of two-under par scorers at No. 7, a mix of fancied bets and the lesser lights, including Clyde Mondilla, Rey Pagunsan, pro-am winner Arnold Villacencio, Korean Gyuha Park, Jessie Balasabas, Japanese amateur Yuto Katsuragawa and Salvador.
Five others turned in one-under 71s, including Ferdie Aunzo, Mars Pucay, Mhark Fernando, Nilo Salahog and Cookie La’O as 21 players broke par and three others matched par on the par-72 Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed layout.
Cassius Casas, winner at ICTSI Iloilo, failed to get going with a two-birdie, two-bogey stint for a share of 22nd with Edward Reyes and Rico Depilo at 72, six strokes behind Becierra and Dumandan.