Dino Villanueva, who missed the cut in three of his last four events, found himself on top of the heap this time, firing a six-under 66 and grabbing a one-stroke lead over Clyde Mondilla and two other foreign aces at the start of the ICTSI Players Championship at the Summit Point Golf Club on Tuesday in Lipa City, Batangas.
Villanueva gunned down seven birdies against one bogey in near-ideal condition, capping his 32-34 card with back-to-back feats from No. 8 that shoved the unheralded shotmaker past Mondilla, Aussie Nathan Park and Dutchman Guido Van der Valk to the lead, much to his surprise and to the rest of the 75-starting field.
“I played awesome, everything was in place,” said Villanueva, who failed to advance at ICTSI Classic of the Philippine Golf Tour at Mt. Malarayat, and at the Aboitiz Invitational at Southwoods and at the ICTSI Splendido of the PGT Asia Tour.
He actually snapped that string of failed bids with a 20th place finish at ICTSI Riviera Classic ruled by Mondilla last week but the Cagayan de Oro pro never projected to be in early contention in this P3 million event sponsored by ICTSI.
But now on top of the elite field, Villanueva hopes to go all the way and end a decade-long search for a breakthrough win.
“Hopefully, this would be my time. I never won a tournament in 10 years and I hope to sustain my game in the next three days and make it for the first time,” said Villanueva, who had three tap-in birdies on Nos. 1, 9 and 14 and rescued pars three times, including a pair off the bunkers.
He hit the fairway bunker off the par-5 No. 5 tee and failed to return a six-footer for his lone bogey. He also muffed birdie putts from 10 feet on Nos. 6 and 7.
“I kind of rushed my putts and didn’t give much time to read the line,” he said.
But a shakeup in the leaderboard could ensue right in today’s second round with Mondilla, Park and Van der Valk expected to press their respective bids after turning in identical 67s with Elmer Salvador and another unfancied bet Raymund Gonzales another stroke behind with 68s.
Park, also out to snap a string of poor finishes in the local circuit, including on the PGT Asia Tour, missed joining Villanueva at the helm with a bogey on the par-3 17th. The Aussie ace actually rammed in a rare two-eagle feat on Nos. 3 and 5 that more than made up for his double-bogey on No. 7. He also strung up four-straight birdies from No. 12 to tie Villanueva at six-under but dropped to joint second with a late bogey.
Van der Valk hit six birdies, including four at the front, against a bogey as the Manila-based Dutchman turned in another strong start which he hoped to sustain for a crack at a first championship.
But Mondilla should remain the player to watch in the next three days as the virtual PGT Order of Merit champion put himself within striking distance with seven birdies against two bogeys.
With Michael Bibat, Jobim Carlos and Cookie La’O carding identical 69s and Jhonnel Ababa, Nelson Huerva, Jelbert Gamolo and Korean Park Jun Sung churning out similar 70s, a spirited battle for the top P550,000 purse in the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. loomed this early.
Jay Bayron, who pooled a 23-under 265 to beat absentee Tony Lascuña by one in the last ICTSI Summit Point Classic in 2015, missed joining the 68 group as the veteran Davaoeño campaigner bogeyed two of the last six holes to drop to joint 10th at 70.
Seven others shot 71s, including 2014 Summit Point champion Arnold Villacencio, while 10 others matched par 72s at the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed layout which features replicas of the world’s 18 renowned golf holes.
Other backers of the event, serving as the final stop of the 10-leg PGT circuit, are Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Champion, Summit Mineral Water, K&G Golf Apparel, BDO, Sharp, KZG, PLDT and M.Y. Shokai Technology, Inc.