Japanese Toru Nakajima bucked mid-noon winds to shoot a three-under 69 then pounced on Mars Pucay and Ferdie Aunzo’s shaky windup to grab a one-stroke lead at the start of the P2.5 million ICTSI Wack Wack Championship at Wack Wack’s East Course on Wednesday.
Nakajima, joint third on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour’s kickoff leg at Sherwood, birdied Nos. 16 and 18th to negate a missed-green bogey on the 17th as he found himself the surprise leader in the event serving as the final leg of the 15-stage circuit sponsored by ICTSI.
“Tough course, tough conditions,” said Nakajima in halting English. “Those birdies saved me in the end.”
Pucay and Aunzo, who started at No. 10 in separate flights, actually led Nakajima heading to the final three holes but both faltered and settled for a pair of 70s.
Pucay, seeking to end a long title drought in the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., had a solid three-under card heading to the ninth but holed out with a bogey, enabling Nakajima to zoom ahead with birdie from two feet on the 18th.
Aunzo reeled back as early as two holes before with a bogey on No. 7.
The frontrunners complained of strong winds that blew from all over at mid-noon, forcing them to adjust their club selections.
“I was doing great, teeing off well and hitting the greens before that final hole. The mud on the ball on my second shot really got me,” said Pucay. “It’s also probably the wind, which really blew harder in the last five holes.”
He flubbed three straight birdie chances from No. 6 inside seven feet.
“I had my chances but I just couldn’t convert it,” said Pucay, the former national champion and veteran of the Asian Tour. “We’ll see in the next few days where I hope to just score red numbers for me to have a chance at winning this leg.”
Mhark Fernando, whose game somewhat took a dip after romping off with the ICTSI Riviera Classic last October, overcame a three-over card with four birdies in the last five holes at the front to salvage a one-under 71 and grab solo fourth while James Ryan Lam and Elmer Saban matched par 72 to tie Micah Shin, who missed closing in on Nakajima with a triple bogey on the par-4 seventh. The Korean, however, birdied the last two holes for a 72.
Aboitiz Invitational back-to-back winner Elmer Salvador, ICTSI Canlubang leg champion Cassius Casas, Gerald Rosales and Benjie Magada turned in similar 73s while Jay Bayron, the winner at ICTSI John Hay, Zanie Boy Gialon, Orlan Sumcad and Jun Rates stayed within striking distance despite 74s.
But Miguel Tabuena, who gained a golden chance to steal the Order of Merit crown with a third-place finish here, failed to sustain a brief rally at the back with a double-bogey on the 16th and tumbled down to joint 29th with a five-over 77.
The 19-year-old runaway winner at ICTSI Sherwood, failed to get going with three bogeys and a double bogey in a birdie-less frontside stint but seemed to have hit his stride with back-to-back birdies from No. 12, only to fall behind again with a 5 on the par-3 No. 16.