Mhark Fernando overcame another shaky start in the wind then whisked off Edward Reyes and Marvin Dumandan with yet another big finish to pull away by four after a 71 in the third round of the P2.5 million ICTSI Riviera Classic at Riviera’s Langer course on Friday in Silang, Cavite.
Bogeys in the first two holes turned Fernando’s overnight three-shot lead into a one-stroke game but the former national champion bounced back with three birdies against one more bogey to salvage a 36-35 round in another impressive rebound that has marked his stint in the first two rounds of the 72-hole championship.
With a four-under 209 aggregate, Fernando padded his lead to four, this time over new pursuers Jessie Balasabas, Rey Pagunsan and obscure Paul Echavez as Reyes and Dumandan tumbled down with over par scores in demanding condition.
“The wind really affected my game in the early going but I was able to recover again,” said Fernando in Filipino, now 18 holes away from nailing his second career win after scoring a breakthrough at ICTSI Calatagan in 2011 and pocketing what could be his biggest paycheck of P450,000.
“I’ll just stick to my game plan—fairway and green since we expect the wind to come into play again plus the tough pin placements,” said Fernando, also out to duplicate his victory here in 2009 as an amateur.
After dropping off Reyes, who fumbled with a 74, and Dumandan, who limped with a 75 after a 66, Fernando takes on new rivals in today’s championship flight with Balasabas and Pagunsan seeking to overhaul a seemingly big lead in a bid and end a long slump on the tour sponsored by ICTSI.
Balasabas came away with a brilliant finish of 31 for a two-under 69, seizing solo second at 213 while the long-hitting Pagunsan matched Fernando’s closing 35 for a 70 and a 214.
“It’s a big lead but I’ll still try my best,” said Balasabas, out to end a string of so-so finishes this year marred by two missed cut stints. “I think everybody has a chance since the course is tough but I have to shoot under-par to gain a crack at the crown.”
Echavez followed up his second round 69 with a 71 to tie Pagunsan at third but missed making it to the final flight and will instead be joining veteran Robert Pactolerin and last week’s ICTSI Splendido Classic winner Elmer Saban in the second-to-last group.
Pactolerin, the former many-time Masters champion and former Philippine Open winner, flashed vintage form and shot a 70, highlighted by a rare three-birdie string from No. 5, as he joined Saban, who matched par 71, and Reyes at fifth at 215.
Gerald Rosales, who shot a 68 to take the first round lead in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., recovered a bit from a disastrous 76 in the second round with a 73 to tie Dumandan at eighth at 216 while Benjie Magada carded a 72 for a 217.
Fernando went a club longer in tackling the wind from just around 155 yards on the first hole but dumped his approach shot in the greenside bunker and failed to return a six-footer.
It was more of the same on No. 2 but finally found his mark on the fourth which he birdied from three feet before rolling in another birdie from 30 feet out on the seventh only to drop another shot on the next.
He made a run of six pars from there and hit his third birdie from four feet on No. 15 before parring the last three holes to stay in control and move and move closer to pocketing what could be his biggest paycheck of P450,000.