Young Lee Song sizzled early at the back then closed out with two birdies in the last three holes to shoot a six-under 66 and wrest a one-stroke lead over American John Jackson and local bet Rolando Marabe Jr. at the start of the $100,000 ICTSI Luisita Championship at the Luisita Golf and Country Club in Tarlac.
The long-hitting Song, 19, birdied all par-5s then added five more birdies against three bogeys in an impressive round for a player who turned in a mediocre joint 29th finish in last week’s PGTA Q-School topped by Thai Sattaya Supupramai.
“I played well today (yesterday) and my putting worked well,” said the Cavite-based Korean, who hit 10 fairways and 14 greens on his way to a 35-31 card, spiked by five birdies in the first seven holes at the back where he teed off.
But Jackson and Marabe stood just a stroke behind with 67s while Aussie Nicholas Coxon shot a 68 and Erwin Arcillas, Thai Varanju Rattanaphilboonkij and South African Mathiam Keyser turned in identical 69s, hinting at a spirited battle for the top $17,500 purse in the 72-hole championship kicking off the second season of the region’s newest circuit put up by ICTSI.
Jackson, a 30-year-old ace from San Diego, and the unheralded Marabe put in a pair of bogey-free five-under cards in scorching heat while Coxon leaned on a five-birdie binge in a seven-hole stretch from No. 6 against a bogey on the fifth to join the crowded leaderboard.
“My putting saved my day as my driving either went left or right,” said Jackson, adding he needs to play smart in the next three days to earn a crack at the crown in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Marabe, whose best finish was third at PGTA Wack Wack topped by Tony Lascuña last year, birdied Nos. 3, 5, 8, 11 and 14 and preserved his unblemished card with four scrambling pars. He could’ve tied Song or grabbed the lead if not for his three-putt miscue on the par-5 ninth.
“I putted from a downhill lie so I three-putted but given the course condition, I think a 15-under total will win here. I just have to take advantage of the birdie holes to stay in contention,” said the 42-year-old Marabe.
Jhonnel Ababa, winner of two legs in the inaugural PGT Asia backed by Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Champion, Summit Mineral Water, K&G Golf Apparel, BDO, Sharp, KZG, PLDT and M.Y. Shokai Technology, Inc., and Jay Bayron likewise put themselves in early contention with 70s for joint ninth with Thais Jaturon Duangphaichoom, Sorachut Hansapiban and Pitipat Pitimana-aree, Korean Kim Sung Wook and Finland’s Teemu Putkonen.
Supupramai, who ruled the Q-School with a 14-under total, failed to sustain his form, gunning down four birdies but fumbling with three bogeys to drop to the 71 group that includes Jerson Balasabas, Americans Josh Salah and Sam Gillis, Canadian Sang Lee and Dutch Guido Van der Valk.
But while Marabe and Arcillas came through with surprising low rounds, two of the country’s top guns struggled in the early going with Tony Lascuña settling for a 72 marred by a double-bogey (No. 18) and triple bogey (No. 6) for joint 30th.
Worse was reigning PGT Order of Merit champion Clyde Mondilla, who limped with a 76 and in danger of missing the 50-plus ties cut. The Del Monte ace hit two birdies but had two bogeys and a quadruple bogey on the par-3 No. 6.
Song, meanwhile, vowed to duplicate his feat on Luisita’s par-5s but stressed the need to opt for safety shots with hazards coming into play in most holes of the layout, which yielded 28 under-par cards in the absence of the wind.