Jun Rates sneaked through a pack of big guns with a big game belying his small frame, shooting an eight-under 60 to grab a one-stroke lead over erstwhile leader Frankie Miñoza and titleholder Jay Bayron halfway through the P2 million ICTSI Camp John Hay Cham–pionship in Baguio on Thursday.
Rates, who finished No. 19 in last year’s ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit ranking, banked on what he described as two “lucky” shots from under the trees to complete a brilliant 32-28 card at the John Hay layout, capped by birdies in the last three holes that shoved him past Miñoza and Bayron with an 11-under 125.
But it will also be a question of poise as the diminutive shot–maker from Lipa, Batangas tries to prove his mettle against Miñoza and Bayron in Thursday’s crucial third round after the fancied pair pooled identical 126s after a 65 and 63, respectively.
Miñoza, who showed up the elite field with a 61 in the first round, eagled the par-5 No. 1 but had a couple of errant shots and a number of flubbed birdie putts to settle for a 65 while Bayron matched his closing 29 in the first round to shoot a second straight 63.
Bayron, who battled back from five shots down with a 59 then nipped Miguel Tabuena in sudden death to snatch the crown last year, also braced for a shootout with Miñoza and Rates while stressing the need to polish his putting stroke to stay in the hunt for a second straight title.
Four behind Miñoza, Rates fell farther back despite a birdie on the opening hole but closed in with back-to-back birdies to close out the front side. He birdied No. 10 from seven feet, tapped in for birdies on Nos. 14 and 16 and closed out again with birdies from 13 feet in the last two holes.
Reigning back-to-back Order of Merit winner Tony Lascuna likewise moved into contention with a bogey-free 64 although he stood four strokes behind Rates at 129 while Anthony Fernando bogeyed the 17th and dropped to joint fifth with Jhonnel Ababa, Angelo Que, Elmer Salvador and Canadian Rick Gibson at 130.
Ababa birdied the first two holes but bogeyed two of the first three holes at the back, needing to birdie Nos. 14, 16 and 17 to negate a last-hole bogey for a 66 while Que bounced back from a so-so 67 in the first round with a 63, spiked by a five-birdie splurge at the front.
Salvador hit just four birdies against two bogeys for a 66 while Gibson, failed to sustain a two-birdie feat at the front with a bogey in a birdie-less backside stint for a 67.
Tabuena also rebounded with a four-under 64 for a 131 in a tie with Swede Malcolm Koko–cinski (68), Carl Santos-Ocam–po (65), Orlan Sumcad (62), Richard Abaring (67) and Cassius Casas (65).