Guido van der Valk and Zanieboy Gialon battled back from seven strokes down with a pair of 66s in the wind while Tony Lascuña mounted his own fightback with a 68 as they forced a four-way tie with Frankie Miñoza to set up a wild, frantic finish in the ICTSI Negros Occidental Golf Classic presented by MORE Power on Friday in Bacolod.
Minoza, who surged ahead by three after 36 holes on 68-69 cards, actually threatened to blow the field away with birdies in the first two holes for a huge five-shot lead. But he failed to sustain his charge at the tricky Marapara layout, which bit back and the multi-titled campaigner hobbled with four bogeys and a double bogey against one more birdie for a 73.
That enabled Van der Valk, Gialon and Lascuña to crowd Miñoza at 210 with Jay Bayron and Rupert Zaragosa, who matched 71s, and Albin Engino, who carded a second straight 72, lurking at 212; Jhonnel Ababa closing in at 213 despite a 72; and Clyde Mondilla likewise staying within striking distance at 214 after a 72 marred by three bogeys in the last six holes.
"You really have to play extra cautious here because it's tough, especially with the wind," said Minoza, who fought back from miscues on Nos. 3 and 5 and a double bogey on No. 11 with a birdie on the 13th to regain control.
But he stumbled with bogeys on Nos. 15 and 17, and Van der Valk and Lascuña pounced in on those miscues in separate flights with steady finishes to earn clear shots at the crown worth P405,000 in this kickoff leg of this year's Philippine Golf Tour put up by ICTSI.
Gialon actually wrested solo control from seven shots down with a blistering six-under card after 13 holes. But while Van der Valk spiked his four-under feat with an eagle on No. 12, Gialon marred his 32-34 round with closing back-to-back bogeys, denying the runaway winner at Caliraya Springs last year the solo lead and a cushion needed in an expected furious final round skirmish at the challenging par-70 layout.
"It was going all right until I bogeyed the last two holes," said Gialon, who needed to drill in a bogey putt from 24 feet out on the 18th to cap an impressive 25-putt performance and make it a crowded leaderboard of aces of varying form and styles.
"But it's still a good round. I still feel confident about my chances," said Gialon.
Lascuña, winner of the inaugural Match Play Invitational at Villamor last year, also brimmed with confidence after rebounding from a bogey on No. 4 with three bogeys for a 68 that put him back in the title hunt after a 70-72.
"It's all about ball control. I think it will go down to a backside battle. Iron play and putting will play a big role, as well as stamina," said the many-time PGT Order of Merit champion.
Like Lascuña, Miñoza feels a closing two-under card under such tough conditions would be enough to merit a championship. And while Gialon would opt for conservative play to fuel his title drive at the tight layout, Van der Valk said: "You have to play this course aggressively, given its conditions."
The Manila-based Dutchman did go on an attack mode after a three-putt miscue on the first hole, shooting three birdies then spiking his big fightback from way back with an eagle on the reachable par-4 No. 12.
Miñoza, who edged Miguel Tabuena in sudden death to annex his last career win in 2016 here, won't be in the featured threesome as he joins Bayron and Zaragosa instead in the second-to-last group at 7:50 a.m.
That leaves Lascuña, Van der Valk and Gialon to fight it out in an expected shootout and a battle of wits and poise at 8 a.m.
"The course is short but difficult. You also have to be precise on your shots to avoid getting into trouble," said Van der Valk, on course for another title romp after winning two legs last year and dominating The Country Club Invitational last month.