Obscure pro grabs early lead in Tarlac

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luisita-golf20160331Unheralded Erwin Arcillas sneaked through a slew of fancied names and moved on top of the leaderboard with a bogey-free six-under 66, three shots clear off Angelo Que and Cassius Casas and four ahead of Miguel Tabuena and six others at the start of the ICTSI Luisita Championship at the Luisita Golf and Country Club in Tarlac on Wednesday.

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Arcillas put together a pair of 33s behind a hot putter and fiery windups on both nines, finding himself a bewildered leader among the star-studded roster in his most explosive round since firing a 65 en route to a career-best third place finish in the now-defunct ASEAN Tour’s Mt. Malarayat leg in 2010.

“I played relatively good. Everything is in place,” said Arcillas, who took advantage of benign condition from an early start and strung up three straight birdies from No. 15. He gunned down another birdie on No. 3 before hitting two more in the last four holes.

It was indeed a surprising start for the journeyman from Zamboanga, winless in 10 years and whose best finish last year was joint 30th at ICTSI Splendido. He also opened his campaign this year with a so-so joint 38th effort at Anvaya Cove Invitational dominated by Tabuena.

While he hopes to sustain his form in tougher conditions as they switch tee-times in today’s second round, the chasing pack are also out to press their charge, including Que and Casas, who turned in identical 34-35 cards in the same flight for joint second in this P3.5 million tournament sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.

Que said he was happy to have carded a low round in his first stint at Luisita in a long, long while. The former three-time Asian Tour winner, who won two ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour legs last year, birdied two of the first six holes at the back, dropped a shot on the par-5 16th but rammed in two birdies in the last four holes at the front as he primes up for a grueling campaign on the lucrative Japan PGA Tour starting next week.

“I will play 16 tournaments in Japan and this event serves as preparation,” said the 37-year-old Que, fresh from his joint fourth place effort in the Indian Open last week.

Casas, out to snap a long title spell in the circuit backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Summit Mineral Water, Pacsports, TaylorMade, Sharp and Champion, bucked a bogey on No. 11 with birdies on Nos. 13 and 18 then negated another bogey mishap on the par-3 No. 6 with a birdie on the seventh and a closing eagle off a solid rescue second shot from 217 yards that landed seven feet off the cup.

“It was a good start. I just hope to improve in the next three days,” said Casas, who, as an amateur, won the President Cup here in the early 90s.

Tabuena, seeking a second straight win on the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., finished with a bogey-free round but his 70 proved way below expectations for a player who has won two tournaments here last year, including the Philippine Open.

“I struggled with my putting, missing five birdie putts,” said Tabuena, also set to play in Asia and Europe, including Germany, Austria, Ireland, Italy, France and Sweden. “It was very frustrating to see things end this way because of my awful putting. I had no problem with my game but I have to check and refine my putting.”

Other two-under par scorers were Reymon Jaraula, Michael Bibat, Rufino Bayron and former three-time Order of Merit winner Tony Lascuna while Clyde Mondilla, runner-up to Tabuena at Anvaya, carded a 71 to tie pro-am winner Zanieboy Gialon, Rico Depilo, Paul Echavez, Alvin Engino, Toru Nakajima of Japan, Jerson Balasabas, Aussie Kevin Marques, Orlan Sumcad, Justin Quiban, Dutch Guido Van der Valk and Chris Oetinger of the US at ninth.

Only 22 out of the starting field of 102 broke par as Luisita, named among the 100 best courses outside of the US by Golf Digest, refused to yield to the pros’ charge, with 10 others settling for even par rounds, including defending champion Charles Hong.

Korean Park Min Ung, who placed ninth at Anvaya, appeared headed for an explosive round after stringing three straight birdies from No. 12. But he made a triple-bogey on the tricky par-5 16th and fumbled with bogeys on Nos. 3, 4 and 5 against birdies on Nos. 1 and 7. He wound up with a 73.

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