• Lewton sustains form, storms ahead with 71

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    Englishman Steve Lewton fails to save a par from the bunker on the par-3 11th. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

    Steve Lewton bucked the gale-force wind and The Country Club’s daunting length for the second straight day, carding a one-under 71 and wresting a two-stroke lead over erstwhile leader John Catlin, Miguel Tabuena and two others halfway through the Solaire Philippine Open in Sta. Rosa, Laguna on Friday.

    Lewton, one of the six players who shot a 70 in the first round of the $400,000 event, checked an impending skid with a gutsy finish in the wind and through TCC’s feared closing holes, birdying the par-3 17th then parring the long, difficult 18th to save a 71.

    With a three-under 141 aggregate, Lewton moved 36 holes away from becoming the first Englishman to win Asia’s oldest National Open, sponsored by Solaire Resort and Casino, which has produced winners from the US, Australia, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Scotland in its 99 years of staging.

    But the Open weekend is expected to be a survival of the fittest although Lewton’s two-shot lead could prove to be a big cushion with the wind tipped to blow harder and fiercer in the last two days at the 7735-yard Tom Weiskoph-designed layout.

    “I played very steady. I had some silly mistakes but I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens,” said Lewton, who beat Tony Lascuña and Brazilian Adilson Da Silva by two to capture the Asian Tour’s Taiwan Masters crown in 2014 for his biggest career win.

    With all the changes the TCC had undergone to conform to world standard, it remained tough for anyone trying to win a crown.

    “It’s really a good test. The course has changed but I still like it. The wind is strong but not ridiculous. But the past few weeks I’ve been practicing in strong winds,” said the 6-foot-3 leader.

    The Englishman Tabuena barely survived another seveñre day, birdying the par-5 for the second straight time for a 73 that proved enough to put the young Filipino spearhead into a four-way for second at 143 with erstwhile leader John Catlin of the US, Thai Rattanon Wannasrichan and long-hitting Johannes Veerman, also of the US.

    Catlin, who impressed the elite field with an opening 68, battled back from a five-over card in the first five holes with birdies on Nos. 8 and 13, finishing with a 75; while Wannasrichan also birdied No. 8 to stay in the mix with a 71.

    While Lewton continued to master the TCC with superb shotmaking and iron play, Veerman flaunted his power game, netting him two eagles – Nos. 8 and 10 – to turn in the day’s best of three-under 69 after an opening 74 in the 72-hole championship held in cooperation with Meralco and PLDT.

    Lascuña put in another quiet one-birdie, one-bogey effort for another 72, his 144 tied him with former Solaire Open winner Lin Wen-tang of Taiwan, who hobbled with a 74, while American Will Cannon and Japanese Toru Nakajima, who fumbled with identical 75s, Singapore’s Mitchell Slorach, who had a 73, and Thai Suradit Yongcharoenchai, who rallied with a 70, shared eighth spot at 145.

    But while Tabuena kept his title-retention drive going and Lascuña stayed in the hunt for a breakthrough win, former champion Angelo Que came in ruffled by the wind despite an early tee-off, limping with a six-over 78, marred by an improbable seven-over card on two of the four par-3s. The three-time Asian Tour winner tumbled to joint 15th at 148 in a tie with six others.

    Looking good with an opening 70 despite a late start Thursday, Que birdied No. 14 where he teed off but bogeyed the tough No. 16 and dumped two balls into the hazard on the par-3 17th to fall behind. He did birdie the difficult No. 18 but had a rollercoaster finish at the front – three birdies against three bogeys and a triple bogey on No. 6, another par-3 hole, where he missed the green, made a poor pitch and three-putted.

    Other local bets who advanced to the Open weekend were Justin Quiban (70-149), Rufino Bayron (75-151), Frankie Miñoza (77-151), Joenard Rates (77-151), Elmer Salvador (78-151), Gerald Rosales (76-152), Jhonnel Ababa (81-153), Zanieboy Gialon (78-154) and Orlan Sumcad (78-154).

    Among the notables who missed the 65-players plus cut at 10-over 154 were Jay Bayron (79-155), Thai Jazz Janewattananond (79-156), Korean-American Micah Shin (77-156), Dutch Guido Van der Valk (77-156), former champions Cassius Casas (79-161) and Taiwanese Yeh Chang-ting (80-151), Clyde Mondilla (74-162), Jobim Carlos (88-167) and Mars Pucay (82-164).

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