Former champion Mardan Mamat of Singapore birdied the difficult backside par-3s of The Country Club in impressive fashion but fumbled on the daunting closing hole and dropped to joint lead with Thai Prom Meesawat at 70 at the start of the 100th Solaire Philippine Open at The Country Club in Sta. Rosa, Laguna on Wednesday.
Englishman Steve Lewton actually kept it a three-way logjam in one stretch at the back in a separate flight but the defending champion wavered at the finish, bogeying two of the last six, including the 18th, to fall to joint third with Korean Taehoon Kim at 71.
The elite field struggled on the long layout that measures up to 7,735 yards despite the absence of the wind early on and majority floundered when the gusts started to whip up in afternoon play, sending the scores soaring and the players tumbling off the crowded leaderboard in the record $600,000 event presented by Solaire Resort and Casino.
But Mamat, 50, and Meesawat stood up to buck the challenge and seize control in a kind of start that could lead to a shootout in the next three days over a course where small mistakes could lead to big numbers.
“It’s very fortunate to play under-par in this course. It’s not easy out there but got a lucky break in some of the holes and made a couple of putts,’” said Mamat, a five-time winner in Asia, including the Phl Open at Wack Wack in 2012, and the Singapore Masters in 2006 that also served as a European Tour event.
He used a 3-wood on the 276-yard No. 11 and banged in an 11-foot putt then hacked a 9-iron to within two feet and drilled it. But he missed grabbing the solo lead with a closing bogey after missing the green and a bad chip, enabling Meesawat, who had two victories in Asia, including a playoff win over Miguel Tabuena in 2016 in Taiwan, to get a shared view of the top.
The Thai veteran banked on a three-birdie string from No. 8 to put himself in early contention for the top $108,000 purse in the 72-hole championship organized by the Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Lewton, who nipped absentee American Johannes Veerman in a playoff here last year, looked headed to taking up from where he left off – putting up a three-under card after 12 holes. But he bogeyed No. 13 then dropped another stroke on the tough par-4 closing hole.
Jay Bayron thought he had all figured out the Tom Weiskoph-designed course with a three-under card after eight holes, sparking hopes for a big start for a local player who missed the Open title by one in 2011 at Wack Wack. But he bogeyed the long par-4 No. 9 and though he recovered the stroke with a birdie on the par-5 10th, the veteran Davaoeño campaigner reeled back with three straight bogeys from No. 11 then traded two birdies with the same number of bogeys in the last five holes to finish with a 72.
Other even par scorers were Malaysians Bin Jailani Amir Nazrin, Leun Kwang Kim and Nicholas Fung, Aussie David Gleeson and Alvaro Arizabaleta of Colombia,
Miguel Tabuena, winner in the rain-shortened Open at Luisita in 2015, eagled the 10th but bogeyed two of the next five and slipped to joint 11th at 73, including American Nicolas Paez, Dutch Guido Van der Valk and multi-titled Tony Lascuña, Gerald Rosales, champion of the all-peso Open in 2000, and Lloyd Go, who topped the PGT Q-School recent at Splendido.
A slew of others also turned in impressive starts, only to stumble on the terrors that lurked on the bunkers, roughs and greens of the dreaded layout with the winds coming into play late in the day. Lascuña had a one-under card with six holes to play but dropped three strokes on the tight par-4 No. 4 and dropped to 73 after a birdie on No. 8 while Go blew a two-under card after seven holes at the back as he bogeyed four of the next seven, needing to birdie the par-5 eighth to save a 73.
Two weeks after edging Tabuena with a five-under overcall card to claim the TCC Invitational crown, Micah Shin found the layout not to his liking this time, tripping with a two double-bogey-marred 40 start at the back. He birdied No. 3 but bogeyed the next three and ended up with a 78.
At joint 63rd, the 21-year-old Korean-American is barely in the 65-player plus tie cut line unlike a host of other pre-tournament favorites in the event sponsored by ICTSI, Meralco, PLDT, Smart, Bulgari, Diamond Motor Corp., BDO, Central Azucarera de Tarlac, Amon Trading, Dynamic Sports and Custom Clubmakers.
Jhonnel Ababa, one of the hottest local players with back-to-back victories on the PGT Asia last January, gunned down three birdies but fumbled with five bogeys, including three in a five-hole stretch from No. 11. He wound up with a 74 and tumbled to joint 16th with Jerson Balasabas, Rico Depilo, American John Kelly, England’s Matt Killen and Kwang Leun Kim of Malaysia.
Angelo Que, a former Open winner who won three titles here at TCC Invitational, failed to recover from an OB mishap on No. 4 as he limped with three more bogeys against two bogeys for a 75, six shots behind the leader in a tie with 12 others.
Clyde Mondilla, the reigning PGT Order of Merit winner, shot himself in the foot with a fat 80 marred by seven bogeys and a double bogey against a lone birdie while two-time champion Frankie Miñoza virtually bowed out with an unlikely 87 marred by two double bogeys, one quadruple bogey and seven bogeys in a birdie-less round.