Seok Jun Min and Rey Pagunsan teed off last at the front and took the top two spots at the day’s end with the Korean birdying the 18th to fire a six-under 66 and wrest a one-stroke lead over the veteran local shotmaker at the start of the ICTSI Splendido Classic here in Tagaytay on Wednesday.
Seok and Pagunsan went on a virtual shootout when half of the starting 71-player field were wrapping up their respective rounds on both nines, matching 31s at the front before the former outgunned the latter on the final hole as the duo emerged the surprise pacesetters in the P2 million event sponsored by ICTSI.
Make it three unfancied bets as Michael Bibat also churned out a solid start at Splendido Taal Golf Club’s easier frontside, shooting a 68, just a stroke off Pagunsan’s eagle-spiked 67 fashioned out in ideal condition with the wind at manageable level despite their late start in the opener of the 14th leg of the circuit earlier tipped to be dominated by the top guns who split the last two titles at Riviera and ICTSI Classic via playoffs.
Bibat, seeking a follow up to his breakthrough win at Rancho Palos Verdes in 2013, actually went six-under with a four-foot birdie putt on No. 16. But he dumped his tee shot into the bunker on the par-3 17th and wound up with a double-bogey and slid to third.
“I’ve been playing solid until I got a bad break in the bunker on the 17th,” rued Bibat, who flashed superb iron shots and birdied Nos. 2 and 3 inside three feet then rolled in a 20-footer on the fourth. He missed a four-footer on the seventh and an eight-foot uphiller on the ninth but tapped in for birdie on the 10th after missing an eagle putt from six feet and made an up-and-down birdie on the 11th.
Seok, who missed the cut at Aboitiz and tied for 26th at Riviera, and Pagunsan, who missed the cut last week and tied for 20th at Riviera and placed joint 33rd in Negros Occidental, slugged it out shot-for-shot and putt-for-putt at the front with the former birdying the first two holes and then adding birdies on Nos. 5, 7 and 9 for a 31.
Pagunsan, a noted long hitter but who couldn’t score with poor iron game and putting, eagled the par-5 No. 2 then birdied Nos. 4 and 5 before closing out with another birdie to match Seok’s five-under start. They both birdied No. 11 but Pagunsan fell back with a bogey on No. 14 and Seok followed suit after missing the 15th green. But the Korean recovered quickly and holed out with a birdie to seize control.
But while most used the front nine as their scoring base, Tony Lascuña failed to go under and settled for a 36 although he had earlier gunned down three birdies at the back to anchor his 69 in a tie with Jhonnel Ababa and American Micah Shin. Lascuña later blamed his putting touch that went awry on his way home while Ababa, also out to end a long title spell, blew a four-under card with flubbed birdie putts and a bogey on the 17th.
Jay Bayron, back-to-back winner at Aboitiz Invitational and ICTSI Riviera Classic, checked an impending skid at the front with back-to-back closing birdies to card a 70 and join brother Rufino Bayron and Mhark Fernando at seventh.
But while Lascuña and Bayron put themselves in early contention, Clyde Mondilla, who nipped Orlan Sumcad in a bizarre playoff duel last weekend, groped for form and hobbled with a 74 for joint 24th, including Sumcad and Marvin Dumandan, eight strokes off the Korean.
Cassius Casas, John Rey Pactolerin and Aussie Peter Stojanovski all carded 71s while Jobim Carlos, Keanu Jahns, Jun Bernis, Erwin Arcillas and Mars Pucay matched par 72s for a share of 13th in the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Summit Mineral Water, Srixon, Pacsports, TaylorMade, Sharp and Champion.