Cassius Casas buried a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to spike a stirring seven-under 65 then watched young Miguel Tabuena flub a six-footer for par for a two-shot swing that netted the veteran campaigner a one-stroke lead in a scorching start in the rich ICTSI Manila Masters at the Eastridge Golf Club in Binangonan, Rizal on Tuesday.
Casas and Tabuena, who settled for a 66, actually battled it out shot-for-shot and putt-for-putt with Tony Lascuna in one of the featured flights in the second batch of starters. But the reigning back-to-back Order of Merit winner and current OOM leader reeled back with a bogey on No. 14, needing to birdie the 17th to card a 68 for joint fourth with another chief contender Jay Bayron.
For a while, Mhark Fernando stood all alone at the helm with a flawless 67 fashioned out in the privacy of a wind-less morning flight but yielded the lead in the face of Casas and Tabuena’s blazing windup late in the afternoon.
“I’ve been trying to put it all together and I’m glad I did it today [yesterday],” said Casas, referring to his game that produced two top five finishes and two top 20s against three missed cuts in the first seven legs of the Philippine Golf Tour sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
With two top four finishes at ICTSI Riviera and ICTSI Valley, Tabuena said he was satisfied with his round where he hit all greens although he later rued his final hole miscue, a three-putt mishap from around the fringe of the par-5 finishing hole.
It was indeed a heartbreaker of a finish for the 19-year-old Tabuena, who engaged Casas in a day-long shootout until he surged ahead with four birdies in a five-hole stretch, the last on No. 17 where Casas barely salvaged a par from seven feet.
The big guns had a virtual field day on the mountain-top course in the absence of the wind with 21 players from the starting field of 91 breaking par and six others scoring 72s. Jay Bayron, winner at ICTSI Splendido, overcame a three-over card at the back with seven birdies, including three at the front for a 68 as he joined Lascuna at fourth.
Michael Bibat hit four birdies against a bogey, James Ryan Lam and Carl Santos-Ocampo made five bogeys to negate a two-bogey mishap, and Benjie Magada went bogey-free with three birdies for identical 69s.
Angelo Que, also chasing his first win on the local circuit this year, recovered from a poor start with three birdies in the last six holes for a two-under 70, tying Joey Huerva, Anthony Fernando, Jhonnel Ababa and ICTSI Riviera runaway winner Elmer Salvador at 10th.
Struggling a bit with just a birdie to show at the front, Que reeled back with back-to-back bogeys from No. 11 but birdied the two par-5s then added another one on No. 16 to save a pair of 35s.
Salvador, on the other hand, hit back-to-back birdies from No. 2 but dropped two shots on the par-4 No. 7, needing to birdie Nos. 12 and 18 to wheel back into contention in the four-day championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Casas, Tabuena and Lascuna lived up to the hype and shot it out in sweltering heat with Casas gunning down four birdies at the front and Tabuena and Lascuna staying within striking distance with identical 33s at the turn.
Lascuna tied Casas with a birdie on the 12th but fell back with a bogey on No. 14, while Tabuena, after three straight pars at the back, rattled off three straight birdies from No. 13, thus catching Casas, who birdied Nos. 13 and 14, at six-under.