Cassius Casas slowed down with a two-under 70 despite an early start, barely holding off a charging Elmer Salvador to cling to a one-stroke lead midway through the P3.5 million ICTSI Manila Masters at the Eastridge Golf Club in Binangonan, Rizal on Wednesday.
After an eight-birdie binge against a bogey in matching Dan Cruz’s course record 65 Tuesday, Casas settled down with just three birdies while battling the wind, his bid to pull away hampered with shaky putting that saw him flub a couple of birdie putts from close range.
But his solid driving and superb iron play kept him in the hunt for a follow-up to his victory in The Country Club Invitational early this year as the ace Davaoeño shotmaker pooled a nine-under 135 and remained on top heading to the last 36 holes of the eighth leg of the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour.
“I struggled with my putting but overall I had a good round,” said Casas, seeking to check a rollercoaster campaign marked by two top five finishes but marred by three missed cuts after seven legs of the circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services. “For as long as my long and short games are okay, I will be alright.”
But he found a new challenger but familiar foe in Salvador, who blitzed the up-and-down layout two flights ahead of Casas, Tony Lascuna and Miguel Tabuena with a six-under 66, highlighted by three straight birdies from No. 6 on his way home.
With a 136 aggregate, Salvador also lined himself up for another win after dominating an international field at the demanding Langer course at ICTSI Riviera Classic of the Asian Development Tour last month.
Tabuena failed to make it happen after an impressive 66 in the first round as the 19-year-old ace failed to recover from a poor start of 38 and hobbled with a two-over 74. He dropped to fifth at 140.
Mhark Fernando, who put himself in early contention with a bogey-free 67 Tuesday, also struggled a bit, fumbling with three bogeys but gunned down five birdies to stay at third at seven-under 137.
Lascuna likewise remained on track for a third crown after ruling the ICTSI Eagle Ridge and Valley stages of the 16-leg circuit organized by PIlipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. as he assembled a 138, just three strokes off Casas.
The reigning back-to-back Order of Merit winner and current OOM leader, still trying to recover from a bout with fever last week, could have inched closer if not for missed putts and a near ace on the 12th.
“I missed a four-foot putt on the 13th and another one from six feet on the 15th. I also missed a hole-in-one on No. 12 by two feet,” said Lascuna. “But I still feel weak and I thought I couldn’t play today (Wednesday).”
Jhonnel Ababa and Anthony Fernando shot identical 71s to tie Benjie Magada, who matched par 72, at sixth at 141 while Jay Bayron, winner at ICTSI Splendido, turned from awesome to awful with a 78 after a 68, dropping to joint eighth with Ferdie Aunzo, who rallied with a 69, and James Ryan Lam, who made a 74.
Angelo Que, who opened with a 70, put in a solid 34 at the back only to crumble in a rain-hit frontside stint with 40 marred by a double bogey on No. 6 and bogeys in two of the last three holes. He fell to joint 11th at 144 in the company of Anthony Fernando, Dante Becierra (73), Carl Santos-Ocampo (75), and Jessie Balasabas (73).
Charles Hong, winner of the circuit’s first P3.5 million event at ICTSI Sherwood last April, skied to a 77 for a 150 and missed the cut by one while Frankie Miñoza failed to recover from an opening 77 with a 75 for a 152 and also failed to advance in the event backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports, Srixon, FootJoy, It’s More Fun in the Philippines, Callaway, Mizuno, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Sharp and KZG with Balls Channel, Inquirer Golf and ABS-CBN Sports+Action as media partners.