Clyde Mondilla took up from where he left off, blasting in a bogey-free five-under 67 to seize control with unfancied Joenard Rates and Reymon Jaraula, one stroke ahead of Tony Lascuna and Jhonnel Ababa at the start of the P2 million ICTSI Calatagan Invitational in Calatagan, Batangas on Wednesday.
Mondilla continued to dish out top form coming off a playoff victory at ICTSI Manila Masters at Eastridge two weeks ago, hitting a pair of back-to-back birdies from Nos. 13 and 2 and adding another on the par-4 sixth while saving a couple of pars to kick off his drive for another crown with a 33-34 card at the Calatagan Golf Club.
The 23-year-old Mondilla took a conservative approach on the tight, up-and-down layout, opting for a 3-iron off the mound on most long holes while coming through with solid iron shots that set up a number of makeable birdie chances as he came out unscathed in an early shootout with Lascuna and Mhark Fernando in the 72-hole championship sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
He impressed the veteran Lascuna no less although the former three-time Order of Merit winner brandished superb putting to relive his glory days here where he reigned supreme when Calatagan last hosted the last Philippine Golf Tour event in 2013, putting himself in early contention with a 68.
“Clyde is hitting it quite long and solid with a 3-iron. But I also feel good about my chances, especially now that I’ve got my putting touch back,” said Lascuna, who birdied three of the last four holes inside five feet at the front. He could’ve actually tied for the lead but muffed a six-footer on No. 8 and missed completing a fiery windup.
He went straight to the practice green and polished his stroke and did some practice chipping and pitching in preparation for a spirited battle in the last three rounds of the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Mondilla, meanwhile, found an early company in Rates, who spiked his 34-33 round with an eagle on the par-5 No. 4 to go five-under with five holes left. The diminutive shotmaker, still in search for a follow-up to his breakthrough win at Camp John Hay in 2012, took a bogey on the next but drilled in another birdie on the par-3 eighth from close range to gain a shared view of the top.
Jaraula actually matched Mondilla’s solid 67, stringing back-to-back birdies from No. 5 then birdying the two par-3s at the back along with the par-5 13th for his best start since joining the ranks in 2014.
Ababa also flashed his familiarity with the up-and-down layout where he, along with Fernando and Jerson Balasabas and a couple of others, had trained for years under the National Caddies Program, although the former national standout needed to birdied three of the last five holes to stay in early contention for the top P360,000 purse in the 72-hole championship.
Elmer Salvador missed joining Lascuna and Ababa at fourth with a flubbed par-putt from five feet on the ninth, settling for a 69 for solo sixth while Japanese Yuta Sudo emerged as the top foreign bet in the 75-player starting field at seventh with a 70.
Fernando lost in an early shootout with Mondilla and Lascuna, making just three birdies against two bogeys for a 71, the same output put in by Zanieboy Gialon and Charles Hong while Mars Pucay hit four birdies but fumbled with the same number of bogeys to lead the even par 72 scorers, who included Rolando Marabe Jr., Japanese Syotaro Onuki and Korean Park Min Ung.
The other local top guns struggled in tough conditions with Jay Bayron blowing an impressive three-birdie string start from No. 2 with two bogeys and a double bogey for a 73 in a tie with Paul Echavez and Benjie Magada while Cassius Casas also came out off an early start with back-to-back birdies, only to sputter with three bogeys and a double bogey against one more birdie for a 74.
Other two over par scorers were Michael Bibat, James Ryan Lam, Justin Quiban, Pedo Repato, Kei Takahashi of Japan, Dylan Jackson of the US, Orlan Sumcad, Edward Reyes, Francis Morilla, Arnold Villacencio, Dutch Guido Van der Valk and Balasabas.