Michael Bibat put on another show of solid golf – an eagle-spiked six-under 66 that got him past erstwhile leader Cassius Casas and put him four strokes ahead of Tony Lascuña halfway through the P3.5 million ICTSI Tournament Players Championship at the Sherwood Hills Golf Club in Trece Martirez, Cavite on Thursday.
After churning out a bogey-free 68 in a late, windy start Wednesday, Bibat proved a lot better in calm condition in an early tee-off, stringing a pair of back-to-back birdies on both nines (Nos. 5 and 14) and highlighting his 32-34 card with an eagle on the par-5 No. 8.
“It’s a big advantage starting out early with the wind hardly a factor,” said Bibat, who has surprisingly enjoying top form following a set-up check after missing the cut in last week’s Central Azucarera de Tarlac Open at Luisita.
“I struggled with my driving last week and I asked Jay (Bayron) to help me check it. He made a little adjustment on my set-up,” added Bibat, whose 10-under 134 gave him a big four-shot cushion heading to the final two rounds of the P3.5 million championship sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
While relishing his first bogey-free 36-hole stint in a seven-year pro career, the former Asian Games bronze medalist has stressed the need for consistency in the last two rounds to fuel his drive for a follow-up to his breakthrough win at Rancho Palos Verdes in 2013.
“Against this tough field, I need to play as good as my performance in the first two rounds to gain a crack at the crown,” said Bibat, who also anchored his solid start on hot putting, highlighted by a 40-foot putt for an eagle off a 3-wood second shot from 235 yards on No. 8 and a pitch-in birdie from 20 yards on No. 14.
He used 27 putts to fire a 68 for joint third in the first round then improved two putt less to storm ahead of the field fighting for the top P650,000 purse in this season-ending tournament organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
But his poise will be tested as Lascuña joins him in today’s featured threesome with an equally surging Elmer Salvador after the reigning three-time Order of Merit winner stepped up his bid with a 68 for a 138.
Casas slowed down with a 73 after a solid 66 but remained in the hunt at 139 for joint third with Zanieboy Gialon and Korean Park Jun Hyeok, who both carded 71s, Clyde Mondilla, who used a strong frontside charge to fire a 69, and Salvador, who rebounded from an early bogey with six birdies to shoot a 67.
Jhonnel Ababa sputtered at the back and hobbled with a 73 to drop to joint eighth with Dutch Guido Van der Valk, who fought back with a 66, Orlan Sumcad, who recovered with a 67, and Rufino Bayron, who matched par 72, at 140 while Jay Bayron failed to sustain a 69 start and settled for a 72 for a 141 and share of 12th with Luisita Championship winner Charles Hong and Arnold Villacencio, who both had 71s, and Korean Woo Seong Bin, who missed joining Lascuña at second with three closing bogeys for a 72.
Anthony Fernando shot a 70 to tie Korean Anthony Kim, who carded a 71, and Rey Pagunsan, who matched par 72 at 143 while defending champion Mars Pucay fell farther back off the pace with a 145 after a 73 in a tie with Paul Echavez, who rallied with a 66.
Thirty others made the cut pegged at 149 with Dante Becierra (72), Jet Mathay (73), Rene Menor (73), Robert Pactolerin (73), Jun Rates (73) and Miko Alejandro (75) keeping their hopes for automatic cards for next year’s circuit.
Frankie Miñoza fumbled with a 76 but still made the last 36 holes with a 148 in a tie with Rodrigo Cuello (71), Korean Gyuha Park (72), Jun Bernis (74) and Chris delos Santos (77).
Other backers of the event are Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Callaway, Srixon, Mizuno, TaylorMade, Nike Golf, Sharp, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Rudy Project, Pacsports, Omnisource, Cleveland Golf, KZG, FootJoy, Silicon, Empire and Great Depot.