Elmer Salvador flashed superb bunker shots at the front to save five pars then unleashed a strong finishing kick to card a four-under 68 and storm past Tony Lascuña for a huge three-stroke lead in the third round of the P3.5 million ICTSI Tournament Players Championship at Wack Wack East on Friday.
A pitch-in birdie from around 10 yards on the par-3 16th and another bunker save on the 18th spiked Salvador’s surge on a bogey-free 35-33 card as Lascuña faltered with a 72 after a 67 Thursday and the Davaoeno aces switched places heading to the final round of the 72-hole championship sponsored by ICTSI.
“I felt like I couldn’t do wrong despite a number of bunker visits. I had an incredible feeling each time I got out of the trap. It further boosted my confidence,” said Salvador, who pooled a nine-under 207 and moved 18 holes away from nailing a second victory in the last three legs of the circuit after ruling the Splendido Taal tournament three weeks ago.
Lascuña, who went on a roller-coaster ride after a near-flawless stint in the second round that netted him a one-stroke lead, failed to rescue a par from the bunker on the 16th, giving Salvador a crucial two-shot swing and a big cushion in their final round duel for the top P650,000 purse.
Despite his mediocre four-birdie, three-bogey effort, Lascuña stayed just one behind Salvador heading to No. 15 but the four-leg winner muffed a three-foot birdie putt on the par-4 hole then missed a 10-footer for par on the next to fall behind by three.
“I just got careless. I was in a hurry to putt it but I lost my focus,” said Lascuña, whose 37-35 card gave him a 54-hole total of 210. “My game was fine, only Elmer was so good.”
With the rest failing to make a charge in the pivotal round, Salvador practically has only Lascuña to deal with in today’s final round although the soft-spoken pro remained wary of his chances for the coveted crown in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
“Nothing’s sure yet,” said Salvador, who put on a virtual bunker clinic by saving pars on Nos. 2, 7, 6, 7 and 9. “Anything can happen here but I’ll give it my best shot.”
What’s sure is Lascuña’s claim of the Order of Merit title as rivals No. 2 Clyde Mondilla and No. 3 Jay Bayron continued to flounder. Mondilla fumbled with a 74 and fell to 221 while Bayron also made a 74 but stood far behind at 225.
Jerson Balasabas, still in search for a breakthrough win in the circuit backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Summit Mineral Water, Srixon, Pacsports, TaylorMade, Sharp, Champion, Ping and Yamaha, came out of nowhere to move to third and gain a spot in the championship flight with a 68.
But his 212 total kept the former amateur standout way behind by five on a tough course that however gives every player a chance for a comeback.
Micah Shin sparked hopes of a fightback with a birdie-birdie start but the young American, who beat Lascuña by two for his maiden pro win at the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Open in Luisita last weekend, stumbled with back-to-back bogeys from No. 8, strung another pair of birdies from No. 12 but bogeyed the 18th for a 71. He totaled 213.
Frankie Miñoza, meanwhile, put on another vintage show, firing the day’s best 67, highlighted by a four-birdie binge from No. 2, but the ICTSI Negros Occidental leg winner could only pool a 215, eight shots behind Salvador.
Minoza, who gunned down three birdies against a bogey at the back where he teed off, went six-under after that four-birdie string but bogeyed the challenging par-3 eighth and settled for that 67.
Japanese Ryoma Miki shot a second 70 and moved to solo sixth at even 216 while Zanieboy Gialon fired a 71 for a 218 and Benjie Magada carded a 73 and tied Cassius Casas (75), Japanese Toru Nakajima (78) and first day leader Fredrick Park (78) of Australia at 220.
Like in the second round, Lascuña bogeyed the opening hole but again bounced back with a birdie on the next to regain the lead which he kept by matching Salvador’s birdie on the fourth. But as Salvador came through with superb par-saves, Lascuña failed to complete his own bid, bogeying Nos. 5 and 8 to reel back.