• Lascuña takes command with 70

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    Tony Lascuña chips onto the green on No. 17. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

    Tony Lascuña chips onto the green on No. 17. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

    Tony Lascuña slowed down with a two-under 70 but still took his familiar role as leader, seizing a one-stroke lead over American Micah Shin, Dutch Guido Van der Valk and Ferdie Aunzo as Elmer Salvador wavered despite ideal condition halfway through the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Open at the Luisita Golf and Country Club in Tarlac on Thursday.

    Lascuña birdied the par-3 sixth from long range and the two par-5s at the back inside four feet for the second straight day to negate a missed green bogey on No. 13, giving him a 36-hole aggregate of 138 and the solo lead after sharing the opening round honors of the P2.5 million event sponsored by ICTSI with Salvador with 68s Wednesday.

    But Salvador, the recent ICTSI Splendido Classic winner, turned from awesome to awful, hobbling with a five-over 77 as he struggled on the putting softened by the overnight rain. He fell seven strokes off the pace at 145 for joint 27th.

    “I’m satisfied with my game. The greens are soft but the condition is okay since there was hardly any wind to deal with,” said Lascuña, who also rescued pars in the last two holes to grab the take control.

    But a slew of others—a mix of the fancied players, perennial contenders and unheralded bets—stood within striking distance, guaranteeing another tight finish the way it did in the last three legs of the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., two of which were decided via playoffs.

    “It’s nice to be on top again but it comes with great pressure, having to deal with a lot of tough players ready to pounce on every miscue,” said Lascuña, trying to zero in on a fifth leg win this year in a bid to reclaim the Order of Merit title he had held for three years from 2012-14.

    Aunzo saved a couple of pars to preserve a bogey-free 69, putting the former amateur hotshot in chase of a follow-up to his first win at Royal Northwoods in 2009 just a stroke off Lascuña and in joint second at 139 with Van der Valk and Shin, who also turned in a pair of three-under cards to be in contention again.

    Rey Pagunsan, who figured in the early going at Splendido but faltered in the third round and wound up sixth, missed forcing a four-way tie for second with a bogey on the final hole. But the long-hitting shotmaker still stayed in the mix with a 69 for a 140 for joint fifth with two-leg winner Jay Bayron.

    Bayron, the Aboitiz Invitational and ICTSI Riviera Classic champion and just P290,920 behind Lascuña in the money rankings in the OOM race, blew a three-under card after seven holes at the back, stumbling with a double-bogey on the difficult No. 18 but fired two birdies against a bogey at the front to save a 70.

    Clyde Mondilla, third in the current OOM derby but just P328,694 behind Lascuña in winnings, rebounded from a mediocre opening 72 with a 69, spiked by a three-birdie string from No. 4. He stood just three behind Lascuña at 141 in a tie with obscure Ramil Bisera and Rico Depilo, who put themselves in early contention with 69s but settled for a pair of 72s.

    Japanese Shotaro Onuki charged back with three birdies in the last seven holes to fire a 70 and join Zanieboy Gialon, who also shot a 70, and Marvin Dumandan, who matched par 72, at 142, just four strokes behind Lascuña, who posted a four-stroke win here over Korean Park Jun Hyeok in the ICTSI Luisita Championship last April.

    “No lead is safe here in Luisita. One mistake or one bad decision could ruin one’s title bid,” said Lascuña. “So every shot, every putt is important.”

    Jerson Balasabas went on a birdie-spree on a wind-less day and shot a tournament-best 67 to wheel back into contention at 143 in a tie with American Michael O’Toole (70), Anthony Fernando (70), Jobim Carlos (70), Justin Quiban (71), Aussies Ben Ratcliffe (72) and Peter Stojanovski (72) and Jhonnel Ababa (73).

    Forty-three players made it to the last 36 holes of the event, backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Summit Mineral Water, Srixon, Pacsports, TaylorMade, Sharp, Champion, Ping and Yamaha, with Paul Echavez and Arnold Villacencio, shooting identical 71s to tie Gerald Rosales, who carded a 72, and Mhark Fernando, who skied to a 76, making the cut at 147.

    Failing to advance were American Nick Sherwood (76-148), Michael Bibat (74-149), Rufino Bayron (71-149), Robert Pactolerin (73-149), Joenard Rates (74-150) and Orlan Sumcad (74-152).

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