Jun Rates charged back with a 68 and James Ryan Lam birdied the last two holes to salvage a 72 as they pounced on Mars Pucay’s double-bogey mishap on the 18th to force a three-way tie for the lead in a muddled third round in the P3.5 million ICTSI Tournament Players’ Championship at Southlinks Golf Club in Las Piñas on Thursday.
On a day halfway leader John Kier Abdon made a horrible 11 on the par-5 No. 4 and bowed out of the title race with an 82, Rates, Lam and Pucay, who settled for a 72, forged a triple-tie at three-under 213 while Rolando Marabe rebounded with a 69 to re-fuel his breakthrough bid at 212 in a tie with Ferdie Aunzo, who shot a 70, and Elmer Saban, who matched par 72.
With Mhark Fernando staying in the hunt at 216 despite a 75 and first round leader Rufino Bayron bouncing back with a 71 for joint eighth with Clyde Mondilla, carding a 75, at 217, the battle for the top P650,000 couldn’t get any tighter in a fitting ending to the 16-stage circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
“It would’ve been a good round until I hit a bad tee-shot on the 18th which led to a double-bogey,” said Pucay, who wrested control with a 34 at the front and held on to a two-shot lead heading to the par-5 18th. “I tried to avoid the bunker off the tee but hit it short and dumped it into the bushes.”
Still, the veteran Asian Tour campaigner remained confident of his chances but stressed the need for ball control and go under in the final 18 holes of the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
“It’s still anybody’s game. No lead is safe here at Southlinks where one must be on the fairway in all 14 holes since a mishit would mean trouble with all the bushes on the left or right. Making under-par will be okay tomorrow [today],” said Pucay.
Like the rest of the contenders, Rates and Lam are raring to end the season on a winning note after the duo put themselves in contention after another challenging day at Southlinks where new leaders emerged for the third straight day.
Starting the day at joint eight, the diminutive Rates worked his way up with two birdies at the front then rattled off three straight from No. 10 to highlight his day-best 68. He almost hit an ace after hitting the flagstick on No. 12.
Two behind with two holes to go, Lam said he had to make things happen to get a clear shot at a first-ever crown. He did.
Pulling out an 8-iron from around 172 yards, Lam hit it to within three feet for birdie on the 17th and used his 3-iron twice to set up a pitching wedge shot from 130 yards to the middle of the green, rolling in a 28-footer for another birdie.
But Pucay, Rates and Lam will not only have themselves to watch out in today’s final round as Marabe, Aunzo and Saban stood just one stroke behind and Fernando staying three off in what has been a wild, wooly race for the final leg crown in the circuit backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports Phils. Inc., Srixon, Callaway, Mizuno, Empire Golf, Footjoy, Titleist, Custom Clubmakers, Sharp, KZG and Rudy Project.
Abdon’s disastrous 82 pulled him down to joint 16th at 221 with Dante Becierra (71), Gerald Rosales (71), Miguel Ochoa (73) and Edward Reyes (75), eight strokes off the three leaders.