Cassius Casas took advantage of benign condition, carding a bogey-free six-under 66 to seize a one-stroke lead over Jhonnel Ababa at the start of the season-ending ICTSI Tournament Players Golf Championship at the rain-softened Sherwood Hills Golf Club in Trece Martirez, cavite on Wednesday.
Solid with his irons and steady with his putter, Casas gunned down three birdies on each nine, capped by stirring 35-feet birdie putt on the par-3 No. 16, as the veteran Davaoeño shotmaker took charge in a crowded leaderboard to set in motion his bid to save a winless season.
“My irons and putter complemented well. I just hope to sustain my form till the final round,” said Casas, who won two tournaments last year but could only place third at Luisita Championship last May and fourth at ICTSI Open at Wack Wack two weeks ago. He used his putter just 25 times.
His 66, however, was short of the 62 he made in winning a tournament here more than 10 years ago but enough to put him on top of the elite field in this P3.5 million championship serving as the final leg of the 15-stage circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
Tuesday night’s downpour rendered the course soggy and the surface unreceptive, forcing the organizing Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. to apply winter rules.
“The greens are soft. One has to come up with accurate iron shots to set up birdie chances since the ball hardly rolls,” said Casas, who banked on superb iron game to set up birdie chances inside six feet.
Ababa did expect to get into the mix early with a confidence boosted by his runner-up finish in last week’s Central Azucarera de Tarlac Open, also at Luisita. Like Casas, the former amateur hotshot started at the back and hit three birdies against a bogey then closed out his solid frontside stint with a 33 to card a 67.
Zanieboy Gialon missed joining Ababa at second with a late bogey on No. 7, dropping to joint third at 68 with Rufino Bayron, Michael Bibat and Korean Park Jun Hyeok.
Jay Bayron, winner at ICTSI Summit Point last month, rallied with three birdies at the front to likewise churn out a bogey-less 69 for joint seventh with Korean Woo Seong Bin, who spiked his opening round charge with three birdies in the last five holes, also at the front.
Tony Lascuña, vowing to atone for his failed title bid at Wack Wack and poor finish at CAT Open, rode on a three-birdie binge in a four-hole stretch from No. 5 to shoot a 33 but failed to hit any birdie at the back and even took a bogey on the par-5 15th, settling for a 70 for joint ninth with Luisita Championship winner Charles Hong, Clyde Mondilla, Arnold Villacencio and Nilo Salahog.
Mars Pucay had a rollercoaster start to kick off his title-retention drive, mixing three birdies with four bogeys but birdied Nos. 16 and 18 to salvage a 71 in a tie with Chris delos Santos, Reymon Jaraula and Rey Pagunsan, while Frankie Miñoza traded two birdies with the same number of bogeys for a 72, the same output put in by Korean Anthony Kim, Benjie Magada, John Rey Pactolerin and Riviera leg winner Elmer Salvador.
Yuta Suda thrust himself in early contention with four birdies in the first 12 holes but the Japanese bet stumbled with back-to-back double bogeys from No. 14 then dropped a stroke on the 17th and instead fell to joint 24th with a 73 in the company of Ramil Bisera, Miguel Ochoa, Allan Remata and Orlan Sumcad.
Action is expected to heat up today (Thursday), particularly for players battling for the top 40 plus ties spots as they bid to stay in the money race for outright berths in next year’s season of the circuit backed by Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Callaway, Srixon, Mizuno, TaylorMade, Nike Golf, Sharp, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Rudy Project, Pacsports, Omnisource, Cleveland Golf, KZG, FootJoy, Silicon, Empire and Great Depot.