John Catlin showed no fear on the dreaded The Country Club layout, firing a brilliant four-under 68 to wrest a two-stroke lead over local aces Miguel Tabuena and Angelo Que and four others at the start of the rich Solaire Philippine Open in Sta. Rosa, Laguna on Thursday.
The course’s length and the wind that bedeviled the games of majority of the 129-player field and the afternoon heat failed to slow down the 26-year-old Californian, who flashed a near-impeccable short game to turn in a pair of 34s to find himself the bewildered leader in a long opening day of the $400,000 championship sponsored by Solaire Resort and Casino.
‘It was very difficult because of the wind. To shoot an under-par card is a bonus,” siad Catlin, who had so-so outing in six tournaments on the Philippine Golf Tour. “I found the greens just seven or eight times.”
He actually headed for a bogey-free start after stringing three straight birdies from No. 6, the longest from 25 feet, on his homeward trip after opening with two birdies in the first three holes at the back. But Catlin, who only had a victory to show in the Gateway Tour back in the US, stumbled with a bogey on the tough par-4 ninth and settled for a 68.
But it proved enough to put him in the lead in the four-day championship held in cooperation with Meralco and PLDT as Tabuena and Que dished out a pair of gutsy 70s to join Will Cannon of the US, Englishman Steve Lewton, Japanese Toru Nakajima, and 2013 Solaire Open champion Lin Wen-tang of Chinese Taipei.
Nicolas Paes, also of the US and now a regular on the Philippine Golf Tour, carded a 71 while Tony Lascuña and Jhonnel Ababa joined Japanese Masahiro Kawamura, Thais Panuwat Muenlek, Settee Prakongvech and Rattanon Wannasrichan and Blake Snyder of the US at 10th with even par 72s.
Aussie Marcus Both, who topped the 2014 Open at Wack Wack, gunned down four birdies but had five bogeys, including on Nos. 15 and 16, for a 73 in a tie with Indonesian Rory Hie, Thais Gunn Charoenkul, Chinnarat Phadungsil, Thaworn Wiratchant and Nattaat Sujavanakorn, Lionel Weber of France, Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh and Malaysia Arie Irawan.
Two-time Phl Open winner Frankie Miñoza hit two birdies but had two double bogeys on Nos. 4 and 18 as he dropped to joint 49th at 74 with Malaysian Rizal Amin, Americans Brett Munson, Johannes Veerman and Sam Cyr, South African Mathiam Keyser and Thai Poosit Supupramai.
But the day belonged to Catlin, a four-year pro still in search of a big win, who launched his bid at the tougher backside with birdies on Nos. 10 and 12. He parred the next six holes, including the difficult finishing hole, and extended his run of pars to five at the front before stringing three straight birdies from No. 6.
But he fell prey to the long No. 9 for the lone black mark in an otherwise superb round at the Tom Weiskoph-designed layout, which yielded just one under-par round (70 from Nakajima) when it re-opened for the Razon Cup three weeks ago.
At least nine players broke par in the opener of the country’s premier championship, and Asia’s oldest National Open, backed by Pioneer Insurance, Lexus, BDO, Sharp, Custom Clubmaker, KZG, Empire Golf and Titleist although it could get tougher with the wind expected to blow harder in the next three days.
Tang, who won the inaugural Solaire Open at Wack Wack in 2013 in scrambling fashion, looked headed to taming the dreaded TCC big-time, birdying three of the first four holes at the tougher backside. But he bogeyed two of the next three, bounced back with birdies on Nos. 1 and 3 but fumbled with back-to-back bogeys from No. 4 before birdying the seventh to preserve a two-under card.
Like Tang, Tabuena also sizzled in the early going at the front, birdying Nos. 3, 4 and 8. But the 22-year-old Olympian, who turned in a winning 13-over 301 total when the TCC, bogeyed the difficult par-4 ninth then parred the backside for a 34-36 card.
Lewton joined Tang and Tabuena in the clubhouse lead with his own version of 70 spiked by five straight birdies from No. 7. He actually started with birdies on the first two holes at the back but bogeyed Nos. 1, 2 and 6 and needed to close out with three straight birdies to gain a piece of the early lead.
Lascuña, the multi-titled local ace still in hunt for a breakthrough Open victory, turned in a one-birdie, one-bogey outing in a mediocre but decent start on a long course spared by notorious wind, at least in the opening day.