Clyde Mondilla slowed down after a record-setting feat with a bum stomach, settling for a one-under 71 and enabling Elmer Salvador to pull within three after three rounds of the P2 million ICTSI Calatagan Invitational at the Calatagan Golf Club in Calatagan, Batangas on Friday.
Mondilla, who stormed to a seven-stroke lead with a new course mark 64 Thursday, actually padded his lead to eight with a birdie opening but the Del Monte ace struggled a bit with his shots from there, fumbling with a double-bogey six on No. 5 and hitting just three birdies against a bogey the rest of the way.
He also lost his putting touch that has anchored his sterling rounds in the first two days, muffing at least three birdie chances from close range that allowed Salvador and Jhonnel Ababa back in the hunt for the top P360,000 purse in the sixth leg of the Philippine Golf Tour sponsored by International Container Terminal Services. Inc.
Though Mondilla remained in the lead with a 14-under 202 aggregate, Salvador moved within three at 205 with a bogey-free five-under 67 while Ababa, who also closed to within three in the early going but stumbled with a double-bogey on No. 6, birdied three of the last five holes to card an eagle-aided 68 and stood another stroke farther back at 206.
“Elmer played solid and I struggled a bit with my condition. But I’m still in the lead, won’t give up and will give it my best shot to win again,” said Mondilla, who moved 18 holes away from scoring a follow-up to his playoff victory over Jobim Carlos at ICTSI Manila Masters at Eastridge two weeks ago.
He faces Salvador and Ababa again in the championship flight, hoping to recover lost grounds and nail a second straight win and fifth overall while Salvador is out to sustain his comeback for a crack at the championship and an end to a year-long title spell.
Four adrift, Ababa also vowed to unleash a strong finishing kick and snap a longer drought on the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Sharp, Summit, Srixon, Pacsports, TaylorMade and Champion.
The rest are too far behind and would need super low rounds coupled with a Mondilla meltdown to get back into the mix.
They include Tony Lascuna, who rammed in three birdies in the last eight holes to shoot a 69 for a 208; Jay Bayron, who also carded a 69 for a 210; and Japanese Syotaro Onuki, who missed joining Bayron at fifth with a bogey on No. 17 for another 69 and a 211.
Mhark Fernando, winner here in 2012, also turned in a three-under card but lay way behind at 212 while Michael Bibat, Rufino Bayron and first-round co-leader Joenard Rates posted identical 214s after a 69, 71, and 72, respectively.
Just when he thought he had Salvador and Ababa all figured out after birdying the opening hole and pulling away by eight, Mondilla hit an errant drive to the right on the tight par-4 No. 5, took a penalty drop and reached the green in four then two-putted.
From eight down, Ababa charged back with a birdie on No. 3 and an eagle on the next and with Mondilla dropping two strokes on the fifth, the former threatened to within four, only to fall behind by six again after double-bogeying the sixth.
As his rivals faltered, Salvador pressed his bid with birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 9 to pull within four off Mondilla, who made the turn at 36, and closed to within two with birdies on Nos. 14 and 17.
But Mondilla, who negated a birdie-feat on No 13 with a bogey on the 16th, drilled in another birdie on the par-5 18th then watched Salvador muff his bid from six feet to re-establish a three-shot cushion heading to the final 18 holes of the 72-hole championship.