Dutch Guido Van der Valk humbled the revered men of the tour, including Davao’s top guns, as he turned in a five-under 66 to emerge the surprise solo leader – one shot ahead of amateur LJ Go at the start of the P1 million ICTSI Rancho Palos Verdes Classic here on Wednesday.
Van der Valk, who topped the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour Qualifier but who could only post a best joint eighth finish at ICTSI John Hay in three of the first four legs of this year’s circuit, missed making it a two-shot lead with a final hole bogey that marred an otherwise sterling round of 34-32.
Twenty-four players posted under-par rounds while 13 matched par at the par-71 layout which lay defenseless in the absence of the wind with Van der Valk fashioning out a low round despite drawing a late tee-off time in the 54-hole tournament organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
“Despite that bogey, I had a solid day and didn’t really encounter trouble,” said the 33-year-old Van der Valk, who hit three birdies at the back where he teed off then rattled off back-to-back birdies to resume his bid at the front before going six-under with another birdie on the par-4 No. 7.
He, however, mishit his drive on the ninth and needed to play out for that bogey.
“I know there are a lot of good players behind me so I just have to play better each day,” said Van der Valk, who settled for a one-stroke lead over equally surprising Go, a rookie who showed up the pros to fire his own version of a four-under 67.
The spearhead of back-to-back champion Cebu Country Club in the PAL Interclub actually went six-under in a solid stint after 13 holes but reeled back with a double-bogey on No. 14.
Still, his 67 put him in solo second with Jay Bayron, Anthony Fernando and Dante Becierra leading the local bets’ charge with 68s in a tie with Michael Bibat, the former Asian Games bronze medalist long due for breakthrough victory in the circuit sponsored by ICTSI.
Bayron, who grew up at Apo Golf like majority of the country’s leading players, leaned on two long birdie putts on Nos. 12 and 14 to put himself in early contention for a second victory after nipping Miguel Tabuena in a playoff to capture the ICTSI John Hay Championship crown in April.
“It’s nice to start a tournament this way because in Baguio, I needed to play catch up to win,” said Bayron, 34. “Although it’s still too early to tell, at least I’m in the upper half.”
Becierra, the former Hong Kong Amateur Open champion still in search of his maiden pro win, took charge in the early going with a spotless four-under card heading to the 18th, only to fumble with a bogey following an errant drive and poor approach shot.
“I just miscalculated it. But I’m happy with how I performed despite that closing bogey,” said Becierra, 27, whose highest finish on the tour was third at Mt. Malarayat in 2011. This year, he had missed the cut twice after four legs while finishing last in the other.
Fernando, the former amateur champion, also made a strong start of four birdies against one bogey while Bibat also missed joining Go at second with a final hole bogey on No. 9.
Mhark Fernando, another Davao ace, led a big bunch of unheralded two-under 69 scorers, who included Albin Engino, Rene Menor, Rolando Marabe, Joebard Rates, Elmer Saban and Chris Mamaril, while former Order of Merit winner Elmer Salvador closed out with back-to-back bogeys to drop to joint 14 at 70.
Other one-under par scorers were Rufino Bayron, Ferdie Aunzo, Jessie Balasabas, Reymon Jaraula, Agustin Mata, Mark Varela, Randy Garalde, James Ryan Lam and Korean Kim Chang Hoi.
Frankie Minoza bucked a double-bogey on No. 3 with three straight birdies from No. 7 but dropped another stroke on the 16th to settle with an even par 71 in a tie with fancied Tony Lascuna, Jhonnel Ababa, Cassius Casas, Jun Bernis, Benjie Magada, Micah Shin of Korea, Richard Sinfuego, Arnold Villacencio, Miguel Ochoa, Rey Pagunsan, Edward Reyes, amateur Francis Morilla and defending champion Carl Santos-Ocampo.