Tony Lascuña rode on a hot putter and explosive windup to shoot a six-under 66 and storm past former national teammate Rey Pagunsan, seizing a two-stroke lead at the midway point of the ICTSI Splendido Classic IN Tagaytay on Thursday.
Recalling the form and putting touch that netted him three straight championships at Eagle Ridge, Forest Hills and Bacolod, Lascuña turned the Splendido Taal Golf Club’s backside into a virtual playground, gunning down seven birdies, including five straight from No. 10 as he moved from joint fourth to the top of the heap at nine-under 135.
“I always thought that putting is the key to winning so I practiced for one week at Southwoods during the break. Just putting – to polish and firm up my stroke. I’m glad it paid off,” said Lascuña.
A pair of seven footers on Nos. 10 and 11 sparked his fiery backside finish and the ace Davaoeño shotmaker strung up three more inside eight feet to get past Pagunsan, who had earlier turned in a 70. Lascuña did fumble with a bogey on No. 15, missing a seven-footer, but birdied No. 16 for the second straight day and holed out with another eight-footer for that 30 and a 66.
Pagunsan birdied two of the last four holes at the front to save a 70 and looked headed to grabbing the lead at 137 until Lascuña came in with that six-under card that tied Korean Seok Jun Min’s opening round feat.
American Micah Shin put in a second straight 69 for a 138 and will join the many-time national team mainstays in the featured threesome in the pivotal third round of the P2 million event sponsored by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Seok failed to sustain his brilliant 66 and cracked under pressure, hobbling with a 73 and slipping to joint fourth at 139 with Jay Bayron and Jhonnel Ababa, who stayed in the contention after a 69 and 70, respectively.
Still, focus will be on the former buddies although Lascuña has piled up so many victories since they turned pro in 1997 and Pagunsan still in search for the big one.
“I can’t remember when I last contended in a tournament. Actually, I can’t believe seeing my name up there in the leaderboard,” said Pagunsan, who also credited his putting for his early surge in the event backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Summit Mineral Water, Srixon, Pacsports, TaylorMade, Sharp and Champion.
He added that a slight shoulder injury also proved to be a blessing as he is not forced to unleash those power drives that has marked his game since he broke into the amateur scene in the early 90s.
“I’ve been putting so well and it also helps that I play quite conservatively off the tee. My gameplan is to hit the fairway and give myself good chances for birdies on my approach shots,” said Pagunsan.
Unheralded Paul Echavez also rebounded strong from an opening 73 with a five-under 67 as he grabbed solo seventh at 140 while Aussie Peter Stojanovski sizzled with four straight birdies from No. 10 but stumbled with a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 ninth and settled for a 70 and a 141 in a tie with Elmer Salvador, who rallied with a 68.
Michael Bibat followed up his impressive 68 with back-to-back birdies from No. 10 but the former Asian Games bronze medalist bogeyed five of the next 12 holes, needing to birdie the seventh to salvage a 74. He slid to joint 10th at 142 with Dutch Guido Van der Valk, who shot a 69.
Forty players made it to the final 36 holes at 150 with Orlan Sumcad, playoff loser at ICTSI Classic last week, barely advancing with a 77, along with Arnold Villacencio (76), Dino Villanueva (75), Japanese Yuta Sudo (75), Rolando Marabe Jr. (75), Ferdie Aunzo (76), Gerald Rosales (75) and Efren Robles Jr. (74).