Tony Lascuña made true his vow and took command with a strong frontside start, shooting a five-under 67 and wresting a one-stroke lead over an equally charging Elmer Salvador halfway through the P3.5 million ICTSI Tournament Players Championship at Wack Wack East on Thursday.
Lascuña turned a fumbling start into a scorching finish, bucking a bogey mishap on No. 1 with six birdies in a nine-hole stretch from No. 3 behind a near-impeccable show of driving, iron play and putting. He actually slowed down with a run of pars after ramming in his sixth birdie from 40 feet on No. 11 that however proved enough to put him on a familiar place at six-under 138.
“Since this is the last leg, I might as well take it,” said Lascuña, who earlier vowed to win it all despite needing just a fourth place finish this week to claim the Order of Merit title of this year’s ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour.
With OOM rivals No, 2 Clyde Mondilla and No. 3 Jay Bayron failing to mount their charge and fell way behind with over par rounds, Lascuña moved 36 holes away from winning his fourth OOM title in the last five years.
Mondilla, the three-leg winner, hobbled with a 75 and slid to joint 14th at 147, while two-leg winner Bayron hardly recovered from a disastrous 78 Wednesday with a 73 and barely made the cut at 151 in the event backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Summit Mineral Water, Srixon, Pacsports, TaylorMade, Sharp, Champion, Ping and Yamaha.
“I had a good run from No. 3. Every approach shot landed to spots where I wanted them, where I knew I could sink a birdie,” said Lascuna.
Salvador, teeing off at the backside of the tough layout, also knocked down superb approach shots in drizzle that netted him five birdies, including a highlight sidehill, downhill putt from 25 feet, also on No. 11. But the recent Splendido Taal leg winner stumbled with a couple of bogeys and made a 69 but stayed in the hunt for a second crown in the last three legs of the circuit sponsored by ICTSI at 139.
“It’s hard to say,” said the reticent Salvador when asked of his chances against Lascuña with the next three of the rest of the surviving 46-player field dropping four strokes off the new leader, including erstwhile pacesetter Fredrick Park of Australia.
Park, who sneaked into the lead with a late eagle-spiked 69 Wednesday, fumbled at the backside this time, making three bogeys and blowing a one-under frontside score to finish with a 73. The rookie Aussie pro slid to joint third but remained in the hunt at 142.
“I had a great first round. I was hoping to duplicate it but I missed several birdie putts from close range. I’ll try again tomorrow (today),” said Park.
Micah Shin rallied with two birdies in the last four holes at the front to fire a 70 as the young American, who thwarted Lascuña to score a breakthrough win at Central Azucarera de Tarlac Open in Luisita last weekend, joined Park at 142 together with Toru Nakajima.
The Japanese also leaned on a solid finish of two birdies in the last three holes at the back to card a 69 and bounce back into contention with 36 holes left on a course he won his first PGT crown in 2013. He joins Lascuña and Salvador in the today’s featured flight at 7:45 a.m.
The rest stood five shots or farther behind with unheralded Randy Garalde matching par to move to solo sixth at 143 and Jerson Balasabas coming back strong from a 77 with a 67 to a 144.
But no lead is safe at Wack Wack East with Cassius Casas, who also knows what it takes to win here, having won the all-local Phl Open in 2001, pooling a 145 after a 74 in a tie with Nilo Salahog, who also shot a 72, while Japanese Miki Ryoma fought back with a 70 to join Jhonnel Ababa (74), Mars Pucay (73) and Robert Pactolerin (73) at 10th at 146.