Carmona, Cavite—Aussie Tim Stewart lived up to his big-hitting ways and fired an eight-under 63 in morning play but barely held off late charge by two local aces in their hunt for birdies that came like rain at the start of the ICTSI Manila Southwoods Championship at the softened Legends course here yesterday.
Charles Hong rattled off five birdies at the back where he teed off in one of the late flights, highlighted his fiery start with three straight from No. 15. He added three birdies at the front to tie Stewart at eight-under but hit the fairway bunker on his drive on the ninth, dumped his approach shot on the left greenside bunker and muffed a nine-footer for par.
He slipped to solo second at 64 while Angelo Que bucked an early bogey on the par-3 third hole with six birdies and an eagle as the duo put themselves in the mix after the foreign aces dominated the leaderboard of the $100,000 event put up by ICTSI early on.
Que, coming in straight from the Japan PGA Tour to boost the local challenge in this third leg of the third season of the Philippine Golf Tour Asia, dropped another stroke on No. 16, another par-3, but holed out with a birdie to force a six-way at 65 that includes American Lexus Keoninh, Thai Tawit Polthai, and Macedonia’s Peter Stojanovski, who also put in 33-32s, Justin Quiban and Chris Hichman of the US, who also charged late with three birdies in row at the front to string a 31-34 card.
Actually in pursuit of a second PGT Asia diadem after ruling final leg of the circuit’s inaugural staging at Luisita three years ago, the young Quiban hit three birdies at the front then strung up three straight from No. 13 to emerge as the best local player until Hong and Que came charging home late in the day.
True to its promise, the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. drew a run of under-par scores on the flat, rain-softened par-71 layout which yielded 47 under-par cards under preferred lies rules.
Rufino Bayron, Michael Bibat, Clyde Mondilla and Dutch Guido Van der Valk all carded 66s, Keita Sudo of Japan and Thai Thammasack Bouahom fired identical 67s, and Miguel Tabuena came through with a birdie-eagle feat from No. 13 to save a 68 for joint 16th with Joenard Rates, Zanieboy Gialon, Mars Pucay, Thai Ratchapol Jantavara, Pete Vilairatana of the US and Korean-American Micah Shin.
Stewart, who failed to cash in on his power at the tight, short Sta. Barbara layout and ended up joint 12th in the ICTSI Iloilo Golf Challenge of the PGT two weeks ago, kicked off his bid at the back with three straight birdies and closed it out in the same fashion—birdying the last three for a 33-30 card that also included a three-birdie effort in a four-hole stretch from No. 14.
He did fumble with a bogey on the slightly dog-leg right par-4 No. 4 but more than made up for the slip with those birdies in the last three from short range spiked by powerful drives and superb approach shots, taking command by two over the strongest cast ever assembled thus far in the three-year-old circuit backed by PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High.
“I was on target most of the time. It was an incredible feeling. Overall my driving and irons were near perfect and my putting was impressive. I just need to sustain this kind of game in the next three days,” said Stewart.
Still, a good number of pre-tournament favorites groped for form despite the absence of the wind and in danger of missing the 50-plus ties cut today (Wednesday), including Juvic Pagunsan, who swept three titles in the Visayas in the PGT last month, four-time PGT Asia leg winner Jhonnel Ababa, PGT Asia Luisita champion David Gleeson of Australia, Elmer Salvador and multi-titled three-time PGT Order of Merit winner Tony Lascuña, whose one-under 70s were good for joint 34th to 49th.
Also hard-pressed to rebound strong are this year’s PGTA first leg champion at Luisita Thai Namchok Tantipokhakul (71-tied 50th), first PGTA co-sanctioned event in Taiwan – Daan TPGA Open – winner WIsut Artjanawat, also of Thailand (72-tied 64th), and defending champion Jay Bayron (73-tied 64th).
Bayron, who won here with a 26-under total on a par-72 course set last year, flubbed a number of birdie chances and made three bogeys after 16 holes. He only hit a birdie on the par-5 17th and wound up with a 36-37.
Worse was reigning PGT OOM winner Jobim Carlos, who made four straight bogeys from No. 4 and ended up with a birdie-less 76 on a layout which Tabuena, in his first local tournament following a back injury that hampered his campaign in Asia and Europe, referred to as a “scoring course.”
“I’m fully healed from my injury and I’m so glad to be back playing at home. While my body is at full strength, I am still trying to get my groove back, to get into the flow of the game,” said Tabuena. “But I have to make it up in the second round. The Legends is a scoring course so I’m way off my target of at least five-under each day to get a chance.”
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