Mondilla storms ahead with 67 as Balasabas fumbles

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Clyde Mondilla charged back from six strokes down to wrest control with a flawless five-under 67, snatching a two-stroke lead over a faltering Jessie Balasabas, a charging Arnold Villacencio and a steady Cassius Casas in a topsy-turvy third round of the P1.5 million ICTSI Canlubang Golf Invitational in Canlubang on Thursday.

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Mondilla brandished a superb iron game and bucked the unpredictable putting surface of Cangolf’s North with solid putting to put together a 35-32 and sneak from second-to-last flight and into the lead at 10-under 206, moving 18 holes away from a dream maiden pro victory.

“I really wanted to win my first championship after falling short in a playoff here last year,” said Mondilla, referring to his heartbreaking playoff setback to Cassius Casas in two holes here last year. “But I have to stay focused tomorrow [today].”

The three others at 208 also stressed the need to toughen up mentally with Villacencio, winner at the recent ICTSI Summit Point, reviving his hopes for back-to-back win with an eagle-spiked 65 after a horrendous 76 start, Casas keeping his title-retention bid alive with a second 70 and Balasabas still hanging tough despite blowing a five-stroke lead over Casas and two others with a three-over 75.

“I messed around with my game in the first round but it was a lesson learned. Now I’m back in the hunt but I need to focus on my target, which is another seven-under card,” said Villacencio, who bounced back from the back of the pack with a 67 in the second round then put himself back into title contention with a tournament-best 65 spiked by an eagle on No. 2 and seven birdies against two bogeys.

Despite his four-birdie, two-bogey round, Casas kept himself in the mix with the veteran shotmaker confident of his chances to become the first player this year to retain the crown in the circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.

“This is going to be a great final round. I like my chances and anybody can win,” said Casas, adding that a four- or five-under card will be enough to bag the crown and the top purse of P270,000 in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.

After going bogey-less after 36 holes holes, Balasabas found the going tough while groping for his putting form. He never recovered after bogeying the first hole and droppig two strokes on the par-4 No. 3, settling for two birdies against two bogeys at the back for that 75.

“Bad putting. I missed around six putts inside three feet,” rued Balasabas. “But I still have a chance. Actually, everybody in the Top 10 can win. Anything can happen here but I need to focus on my driving and putting.”

Marvin Dumandan rallied with a 68 but stood four shots off Mondilla at 210 in a tie with ICTSI Royal Northwoods champion Zanie Boy Gialon, who carded a 70, ICTSI Sherwood Hills winner Charles Hong, who fired a 71, and erstwhile joint second running Dante Becierra, who matched par 72.

Robert Pactolerin and Japanese amateur Yuto Katsuragaw both shot 69s and tied Jhonnel Ababa, who had a 72, at 211 while Fil-German Keanu Jahns sputtered with a 76 and tumbled from joint second to a share of 14th at 214 behind Micah Shin’s 69-212 and Michael Bibat’s 68-213.

Six shots at the start of the day, Mondilla hardly moved up with one birdie at the front in the second-to-last flight but charged into the lead with four birdies, including three straight from No.14, in the last seven holes as Balasabas wavered early.

Five flights behind, Villacencio worked his way up early with an eagle on No. 2 then added four more birdies to make the turn with a solid 30. He went seven-under with another birdie on No. 10, reeled back with back-to-back bogeys from No. 12 before birdying two of the last five for that 65.

Casas had a so-so one-birdie, one-bogey stint after nine holes but fired three birdies in the last five to negate a missed-green bogey on No. 16 to turn in another two-under card and stay in the title race in the event backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports Phils. Inc., Srixon, Callaway, Mizuno, Empire Golf, Footjoy, Titleist, Custom Clubmakers, Sharp, KZG and Rudy Project.

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