Carl Santos-Ocampo and Tony Lascuña each fired a seven-under 65 in separate flights and assumed the 1-2 positions as Elmer Salvador slowed down with a 71 in a day of torrid scoring in the second round of the P1 million ICTSI Tagaytay Midlands Challenge in Tagaytay on Thursday.
Santos-Ocampo finally put together a game missing in his past campaigns, stringing a bogey-free round of 32-33 and jumping from joint eighth to the top of the heap at 135—one stroke ahead of Lascuna, who also submitted a flawless 65 card marked by two eagles for a 136.
Randy Garalde, an obscure pro chasing his first pro win on the tour sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc. and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., also turned in a bogey-less 67 to gain a spot in the championship flight at 137.
Jay Bayron appeared headed to take control with an opening 32 for a running six-over card overall. But the ICTSI John Hay winner lost his rhythm at the back, missing birdies putts inside six feet and settling for a 36 and a 68 for a 138 in a tie with Rey Pagunsan and Salvador.
The long-hitting Pagunsan, the former national amateur standout seeking an end to a long victory drought, shot a five-under 67 while Salvador, winner at Aboitiz Invitaitonal the second time around, stumbled after hitting two birdies at the back, finishing with two bogeys against a birdie in the last 10 holes for that 71.
Miguel Tabuena, the kickoff leg champion at ICTSI Sherwood, also put in a 68 to tie unheralded Nilo Salahog, who carded a 70, at seventh at 139 while Michal Bibat, who struggled after scoring a maiden win at ICTSI Palos Verdes, rallied with a 67 to join Elmer Saban, who matched par 72, at ninth at 140.
“My ball striking was solid throughout the round which allowed me several good looks at birdies and I also made good strokes with the putter the entire day and fortunately a lot of those putts went it,” said Santos-Ocampo, who birdied Nos. 10, 16 and 17 before razing the frontside with four more on Nos. 1, 3, 6 and 7 inside 10 feet.
Lascuna, seeking a follow-up to his victory at ICTSI Calatagan last May, left as soon as he signed his scorecard which nevertheless showed the brilliance in the man, who eagled Nos. 6 and 16, the first a pitch-in from 40 yards and the other a tap-in from a superb 5-iron shot from 220 yards.
“It will be tough but I’ll try my best,” said Lascuna in a text message later.
Santos-Ocampo, who could only churn out a pair of third place efforts for his best finishes since scoring a breakthrough victory at ICTSI Rancho Palos Verdes last year, also downplayed his title chances but thrilled over slugging it out with Lascuna for the top P200,000 purse.
“Wins don’t come when you force it, so tomorrow (today) I’ll just enjoy the atmosphere playing alongside one of my favorite golfers (Lascuña) and see what happens,” said Santos-Ocampo.
Just two strokes off the lead, Garalde, No. 35 in the Order of Merit ranking, hopes to seize the moment and spoil the Santos-Ocampo-Lascuna duel as he tries to make the most of this rare crack at the crown.
So does Pagunsan three shots behind along with Bayron and Salvador, who are both seeking to become the first player to win twice on the circuit.