Rey Pagunsan birdied No. 17 and made a bunker save on the tough finishing hole to shoot a four-under 66 and grab a two-stroke lead over former champions Tony Lascuna and Cassius Casas halfway through the rich The Country Club Invitational at the TCC layout in Canlubang on Friday.
As surprise overnight leader amateur Princess Superal fumbled with a 72 after showing up the elite field with a bogey-free 67 on Thursday, Pagunsan took charge with another strong start he capped with a solid windup, pooling a six-under 134 and towing the elite field to the weekend play of the P5 million event.
“I got a bit lucky in the end,” said Pagunsan, who matched his fiery start on Thursday with birdies on Nos. 1, 4 and 5 inside six feet and added a pair of long putts on Nos. 8 and 17 before coming through with a par-save from four feet on the 18th after dumping his approach shot into the right side bunker.
Lascuna, the back-to-back ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit winner, made his move with a three-under 67 behind a three-birdie string from No. 12, while Casas fired the tournament-best five-under 65 as the Davaoeño aces moved to joint second at 136.
Superal, who held her ground with a 35 at the turn, wavered with three bogeys in the first seven holes at the back, needing to birdie the par-3 17th to save a 72. She dropped to joint fourth with Mars Pucay, who shot a 69 for a 139.
“She seemed to have tired out at the back. Hindi na solid ang mga patama nya,” noted Angelo Que of Superal’s performance which nevertheless kept the top Team ICTSI bet way ahead of the field in the battle for low amateur honors.
Anthony Fernando, the Manila Southwoods pro seeking a breakthrough win, bounced back from a 72 with a 68 to seize solo sixth at 140 while Orlan Sumcad, who matched Pagunsan’s opening 68, went six-over after 11 holes and had to birdie Nos. 16 and 17 to card a 74. He fell to seventh at 142.
Que, seeking a record fourth championship in the blue-ribbon event staged in honor of ICTSI founder Enrique “Don Pocholo” Razon Sr., birdied the last two holes to salvage a 71 although he stood too far behind at 143 in a tie with Zanie Boy Gialon and Jhonnel Ababa, who had a 72 and 73, respectively.
Jay Bayron shot a second 72 for a 144 while defending champion Frankie Minoza hardly improved from a 73 with a 72 for a 145 for joint 12th with Rufino Bayron, whom he nipped in the playoff in last year’s edition of the event which features the top 30 Filipino players from last year’s ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit rankings.
“This is a good cushion going to the last two rounds,” said the 45-year-old Pagunsan, who also bogeyed the par-5 No. 2 for the second straight day but now 36 holes away from ending a long victory drought.
Casas is also raring to end a long spell in the event he ruled in impressive fashion in its inaugural staging in 2003. “My ball striking is quite okay and I need to stay within striking distance to get another crack at the title,” he said.
The other fancied bets, meanwhile, continued to struggle in tough condition at the wind-raked layout with sleek putting surface with Elmer Salvador and Miguel Tabuena laying 14 shots off Pagunsan at 148 after a 73 and 75, respectively.
Mhark Fernando and Michael Bibat, leg winners in last year’s ICTSI-PGT, stood at joint 14th at 146 after a 71 and 75, respectively, while Pauline del Rosario, another Team ICTSI mainstay, made a 75 for a 149 for joint 20th with Carl Santos-Ocampo and Richard Sinfuego, who made a 73 and 74, respectively.