Australian Fredrick Park birdied the 18th from long range, capping an eagle-spike backside rally for a three-under 69 and a one-stroke lead over local aces Elmer Salvador and Frankie Miñoza at the start of the ICTSI Tournament Players Championship at Wack Wack East on Wednesday.
A rookie pro who has had a string of mediocre finishes in eight legs on the Asian Development Tour, including a missed cut stint at ADT Aboitiz Invitational here last month, bucked the rain-softened fairways and greens – and a long delay – with an eagle-2 on No. 12 then gunned down two birdies against a bogey in the last three holes to find himself on top of the elite field.
“I gave it a little punch since it was uphill and the surface was pretty slow,” said Park of his last putt from 14 feet.
Park, whose best ADT finish was tied for 39th at the PGM Bukit Jawi Championship in Indonesia last May, actually blew a two-under card after seven holes with back-to-back bogeys from No. 8 coming out of an hour-long rain stoppage but the southpaw fought back with gutsy pars and then came through with that eagle from 185 yards off a 5-iron shot before turning in a birdie-bogey-birdie windup.
For a while, early starters Salvador and Miñoza stood atop the leaderboard with a pair of 70s but settled for joint second at the end of the long day in the opener of the P3.5 million championship serving as the closing leg of this year’s 16-stage circuit sponsored by ICTSI.
Salvador, gunning for a second victory in the last three legs of this year’s circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., stumbled with a closing bogey before the downpour while Miñoza flashed vintage form to put himself in early contention on a course where he nailed his second Philippine Open crown in 2007.
“I had a good start but struggled from Nos. 8 and 10. When I finally regained my rhythm and bearing, I came up short on No. 18 and made a bogey. Sayang. I could’ve gained a share of the lead,” rued Salvador, who hit three birdies against a bogey in the first four holes, rammed in another birdie on No. 7 to go three-under but bogeyed the next three holes.
Still, the 70 put Salvador on track for another shot at the crown after snapping a year-long title spell with a one-shot win over Jay Bayron at Splendido three weeks ago and posting a joint third place finish at Central Azucarera de Tarlac Open at Luisita last weekend.
Miñoza upstaged fancied Tony Lascuña, who turned in a 71, in the featured flight that included Jay Bayron, the two leg winner who shot himself in the foot with a bogey-riddled 78, leaning on back-to-back birdies from No. 2 to match Salvador’s 35-35 card.
“We were on the tee mound of No. 9 when play was stopped so our flight was not much affected. Still we had to contend with the tough conditions all day. I am surprised to be on top,” said Miñoza.
But Lascuña and a host of others also stayed within striking distance with Cassius Casas, who also won an all-local Phl Open here, James Ryan Lam and Randy Garalde joining the Order of Merit frontrunner at fourth at one-under.
Three-leg winner Clyde Mondilla gunned down three birdies in a five-hole stretch from No. 13 but bogeyed the 18th for a 72, dropping into a share of eighth with Jhonnel Ababa, Edward Reyes, Dutch Guido Van der Valk and American Micah Shin, who humbled the field with a two-shot win over Lascuña in last week’s Central Azucarera de Tarlac Open at Luisita.
Japanese Toru Nakajima, who also won a PGT leg here in 2013, shot a 73 for joint 13th with Nilo Salahog, Jet Mathay, Robert Pactolerin, Rey Pagunsan, Mars Pucay, Ferdie Aunzo and Rufino Bayron as the rest struggled in tough conditions midway through the round of the event backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Summit Mineral Water, Srixon, Pacsports, TaylorMade, Sharp, Champion, Ping and Yamaha.