American Lexus Keoninh unleashed superb iron play and solid putting and came away with a solid seven-under 65 then watched Australian Tim Stewart fumble with a late bogey to grab a share of the lead halfway through the ICTSI Azucarera de Tarlac Open at Luisita Golf and Country Club in Tarlac on Thursday.
The duo virtually slugged it out shot-for-shot and putt-for-putt in separate flights in afternoon play with Keoninh emerging from the day-long battle in the heat and light wind with six birdies, including three straight from No. 11, to get to 10-under 134 first, including an opening 69.
“I hit it close and made a lot of putts,” said Keoninh, who has had a number of cracks at a championship on both the Philippine Golf Tour and PGT Asia but just couldn’t pull it off in the end.
Two flights behind, Stewart had held sway with his own birdie-binge, seven in all against a lone bogey after 15 holes. But the long-hitting shotmaker, who placed second to Angelo Que in PGT Asia Manila Southwoods last July, bogeyed Luisita’s signature hole No. 17 and settled for a 67 and a share of the lead.
The duo stood three strokes ahead of PGT Cebu leg titlist Dutch Guido Van der Valk and reigning Philippine Open champion Clyde Mondilla, who assembled identical 137s after a 68 and 70, respectively, not a big cushion on a tough, challenging course and over a slew of aces all primed up for an assault in the last two days of the $100,000 event serving as the sixth leg of the third season of the region’s emerging circuit put up by ICTSI.
Mondilla, whose game took a downswing after nailing his first Phl Open crown last April, failed to match his blistering opening 67 but scrambled just good enough for five birdies against two bogeys to stay within striking distance of the joint leaders.
As first round leader Ira Alido floundered with a disastrous backside start of 41 and limped with a 76 after a bogey-free 66, diminutive Rupert Zaragosa sneaked into the title picture with a 70 for joint fifth with Rufino Bayron, who also carded a two-under card, and American Brett Munson, who closed out with three straight birdies at the front to save a 72, for 139s.
Clubhouse leader Reymon Jaraula dropped to joint seventh at 140 after a 67 with Aussie Simon Vitakangas and Korean-American Micah Shin, who fired a 68 and 72, respectively.
The rest of the surviving 54-player cast, however, stood too far behind to pose a threat in the last two days of the third event co-sanctioned by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and PGA of Taiwan (TPGA) this year with Jhonnel Ababa, the winningest player on PGTA with four victories, hitting just one birdie for a 71 and 141 for joint 10th with Aussie Fidel Concepcion (72), Nilo Salahug (69) and Wang Wei-Lun, No. 5 in the current TPGA Order of Merit ranking, who also shot a 69.
Alido did recover with birdies on Nos. 3 and 5 but dropped another stroke on the sixth to fall to joint 14th with Kris Etter (72), Anthony Fernando (74), Gerald Rosales (73), Taiwanese Tseng Hong Sheng (72) and 2017 CAT Open winner Justin Quiban (72).
Fifty four players made the cut at 147 with last year’s champion James Ryan Lam barely advancing with a 74, along with Omar Dungca (75), Taiwan’s Hsieh Min-Hsuan (76), Hsu Li-Peng (74) and David Shen (74), Japanese Issei Mori (73), Emilio Parodi of Argentina (72), Aussie Jack Lane-Weston (72) and Fil-Am Sean Talmadge (74).
Among those who missed the cut in the event backed by PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High.were former PGTA leg winner Joenard Rates (73-148), multi-titled Elmer Salvador (74-148), Keanu Jahns (74-149) and former Masters titlist Jerson Balasabas (82-153).