Prom Meesawat carded a gutsy 73 in morning play to stay in control then watched three rivals grab a piece of the lead and a horde of others pull within and fall later in wicked conditions halfway through the 100th Solaire Philippine Open in Sta. Rosa, Laguna on Thursday.
Such is the drama and thrill on a day when the winds picked up and blew from different directions in the afternoon and a slew of names crowded Meesawat on top until the stocky Thai found himself all alone at 143 after another punishing round at The Country Club.
“I’m very happy with my round because this course is long and windy and tough for everybody. So I just have to be patient and try not to get into trouble. That’s the key for me,” said Meesawat, who actually holed out with a bogey on No. 9 for a 37-36 card but spared of the nature’s wrath that bedeviled the games of the other contenders in the record $600,000 event sponsored by Solaire Resort and Casino.
In what’s fast turning out to be a survival of the fittest at the long, treacherous Tom Weiskoph-designed layout – with only two breaking par with 71s, Dutch Guido Van der Valk, Aussie David Gleeson and local ace Miguel Tabuena joined Meewat at one-under overall in one stretch but tumbled with shaky finishes. Tony Lascuña and Jay Bayron also moved to within one midway through but also wobbled at the finish.
But American Nicolas Paez, a regular on the Philippine Golf Tour and PGT Asia, proved steadier than the rest of the afternoon pack, rebounding from a 38 start with a birdie on the 10th and an eagle on the par-5 14th, jumping from the middle to second at 144, just one off Meesawat, with a one-under 71.
“I’m very pleased with my round today (yesterday). To go under-par in the afternoon is quite a feat out here. I’m really happy to stick it out, grind it out,” said Paez, who split the No. 14 fairway with a monster 320-yard drive then hacked a 2-iron from 278 yards around 20 feet off the cup and knocked it down.
“I hit two perfect shots and perfect putt—that was clutch,” said Paez.
Tabuena, who shot a 73 in the first round, also came through in the end, birdying No. 8 for the second straight day to salvage a 72 for joint third with Van der Valk, who blew an early two-under card and finished with a 72, at 145. The 2015 champion at Luisita birdied the two par-5s at the back where he teed off to go one-under overall but fell behind again with three straight bogeys to start his frontside bid. But unlike Van der Valk and Gleeson, he bounced back with that late birdie to stay in the title hunt in Asia’s oldest National Open co-sanctioned by OneAsia and the National Golf Association of the Philippines.
Korean Kim Taehoon, just one off Meesawat and Mardan Mamat at the start of the day, fumbled with a 75 and slid to fifth at 146 while Aussie Andrew Campbell fired the other 71 to seize solo sixth at 147.
Bayron, who matched par in the first round, stayed within striking distance with a one-over total with six holes left. But he double bogeyed No. 4, dropped a stroke on No. 6 and bogeyed the last two holes against a birdie on the seventh. He ended up with a 77 and dropped to joint seventh at 149 with Colombia’s Alvaro Arizabaleta and Gleeson, who also limped with 77s, Lascuña (76), defending champion Steve Lewton (78), and Thais Panuwat Muenlek, Piya Swangarunporn and Pawin Ingkhapradit, who all carded 72s.
Lascuña threatened to within one off Meesawat with a three-birdie, two-bogey card after 10 holes. But the former PGT Order of Merit winner lost his rhythm and steam, bogeying five of the last eight, including the last four for that 76.
Despite his early start, Mamat was the first to blink. Upbeat after co-sharing the lead, the 2012 champion instead limped with four bogeys and a double-bogey in a birdie-less backside start. He hit two birdies at the front but fumbled with four more bogeys with a triple-bogey mishap on No. 5 to finish with a 40 and an eye-popping 82. He tumbled down to joint 27th at 152 with six others, including last week’s TCC Invitational winner Micah Shin, who shot a 74.
Lewton, just one behind Meesawat and Mamat at the start of the day, made it an early three-way logjam with a birdie on No. 10. But the lanky Englishman fell behind just as quickly with three bogeys and a double bogey in the next eight. He birdied the first hole but dropped two strokes on No. 4 and bogeyed the sixth to wind up with that 78-149, six shots off Meesawat.
Meanwhile, former winner Angelo Que turned in a 76 for joint 20th at 151.
The first 36 holes were such an ordeal for the men of the tour in this PGT Asia event that five retired, one withdrew and a number of fancied names failed to make it through the 65-plus tie cut at 157.
They included Thai Pasavee Lertvilai (80-158), Mars Pucay (79-158), Miguel Angel Jimenez Jr. (80-159), former champion Robert Pactolerin (80-160), American John Michael O’Toole (83-161), Thai Poosit Supupramai (82-161), former two-time champion Frankie Miñoza (76-163) and former Singapore amateur hotshot Choo Tze Huang (86-171).
Sixth nine players advanced with Clyde Mondilla barely making with with a 77-157 along with Michael Bibat (76), Benjie Magada (78) and Thais Thammanoon Sriroj (80) and Natipong Srithong (78) in the event backed by ICTSI, Meralco, PLDT, Smart, Bulgari, Diamond Motor Corp., BDO, Central Azucarera de Tarlac, Amon Trading, Dynamic Sports and Custom Clubmakers.