Juvic Pagunsan came out a bit better than the rest of the elite field in another punishing day at The Country Club, rallying from three strokes down with a 74 then watching Angelo Que three-putt the final hole to grab a one-stroke lead in the third round of the TCC Invitational-Don Pocholo Razon Memorial Cup in Sta. Rosa, Laguna on Saturday.
Pagunsan recovered from a triple-bogey mishap on No. 9 with two late birdies in second-to-last flight and found himself on top at eight-over 224 in another windy day as Que wavered in the last group with three bogeys in the last four holes and wilted with a 78 and a 225.
With the next four players pooling identical 229s and erstwhile co-leader Toru Nakajima yielding with a wind-blown 84 for a 231, the fight for the top P1.5 million purse could boil down to a duel between two aces chasing a record fourth TCC Invitational crown.
“It’s okay, I just had minor mistakes, missing short par putts in the early going,” said Pagunsan, who ruled the 2006, 2008 and 2012 edition of what has become one of the country’s major championships put up by ICTSI boss Ricky Razon in 2003 to honor the memory of his father and ICTSI founder Don Pocholo.
“Given the course length and windy condition, it’s a question of minimizing your errors. I need to concentrate to boost my chances of winning,” added Pagunsan, who hit a poor drive and dropped three strokes on the par-4 No. 9 of the treacherous layout refurbished to PGA standard.
But the former Asian Tour No. 1 toughened up at the back, stringing a slew of pars before birdying Nos. 15 and 17. He also bogeyed the difficult finishing hole and appeared headed for a tie until Que putted from long range and came up short by two pins.
It was a sorry windup for Que, who went 3-up over Pagunsan with four holes to go and appeared headed to building a big cushion heading to the final 18 holes of the P5 million championship. But bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16 and his final hole mishap dropped the former three-time Asian Tour champion behind his fellow Japan PGA Tour campaigner.
“Despite my finish, I’m happy as long as I’m still in the fight. Just one down, still in there,” said Que, who first won here in 2007 and scored back-to-back feats from 2010-11.
“It’s really tough out there. The last few holes I made bogeys which were unavoidable. If you can make 18 pars here, it’s one heck of a round,” said Que, adding he’ll stick to their plan with coach Bong Lopez to go for pars and make the most of birdie opportunities.
“It’s pretty much between Juvic and me. Dikit ang laban so we’ll see,” he added.
Tony Lascuña turned in a four-over 76 and tied Arnold Villacencio, Jhonnel Ababa and Miguel Tabuena at 229 but the reigning ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit champion earned the coveted spot in the championship flight with a better output than the three.
Villacencio carded a 77, Ababa shot a 79 while Tabuena made a birdie-less 80.
But given the playing conditions, a five-stroke lead could vanish in the gusts.
“No lead is safe in this course with this kind of playing condition. I just have to stay focused and try to make the most of my shots,” said Lascuña, seeking a follow-up to his victory here way back in 2004.
The rest, however, could be too far behind to contend with Charles Hong and Orlan Sumcad, the only players to birdie the 18th yesterday, tied at 235 after a 77 and 80, respectively, and Dutch Guido Van der Valk at 237, also after an 80.
Three down at the start of the day, Pagunsan birdied the par-5 second hole, reeled back with back-to-back bogeys from No. 6 but countered with another birdie on the eighth, only to fall behind with that triple-bogey misadventure on the ninth.
In a flight behind, Que took the fight out of Nakajima and Tabuena despite a 39 after nine holes then took charge with a birdie on No. 12 and back-to-back pars before fumbling with bogeys in three of the last four.
Tabuena, playing in four straight tournament after competing in the Sony Open, Singapore Open and Myanmar Open, had two double bogeys and two bogeys at the front and dropped two more strokes at the back to finish without a birdie for the first time in a long, long while.
Nakajima, who surprised the stellar local field with a 70 in the opening day and held on a share of the lead with Que despite a 77 Friday, never recovered from a 41 start and finished with a birdie-less 43 for that atrocious 84.