Gen. Trias, Cavite—In his Philippine Golf Tour return, Angelo Que didn’t disappoint, so did Zanieboy Gialon and Jhonnel Ababa as the troika forged ahead in a crowded leaderboard with identical 67s for a one-stroke lead over Tony Lascuña at the start of the ICTSI Eagle Ridge at Aoki Invitational here yesterday.
Michael Bibat cleared the par-4 No. 5 off the mound and banged in a 10-foot putt for eagle and went on to fire a 69 for joint fifth with Anthony Fernando, Lloyd Go and Gerald Rosales, while Reymon Jaraula, Mars Pucay and Orlan Sumcad matched 70s under the lift, clean and place setup in this P2 million championship serving as the fourth leg of this year’s circuit put up by ICTSI.
Ira Alido, Eric Gallardo, Frankie Miñoza, Juvic Pagunsan, Sean Ramos, Guido Van der Valk and Dino Villanueva carded identical 71s while Jerson Balasabas, Rico Depilo, Marvin Dumandan and Rupert Zaragosa matched par 72s to all but set the stage for a spirited chase in the next three days.
Back on the rain-softened course where he tied for 11th in his last PGT stint last year, Que outgunned Pagunsan and Van der Valk in the featured flight with a scorching start of four birdies in the first six holes. He failed to return a six-footer for par on the par-3 No. 7 but snapped a run of pars with birdies on Nos. 14 and 16 to turn in the day’s last five-under card in overcast skies.
“Drove it really well but still missed few putts as the greens were pretty tricky,” said Que, who actually muffed a four-footer for birdie on the first hole after Pagunsan rolled in his own bid from 40 feet out to open their highly anticipated duel.
But the three-time Asian Tour champion took the challenge to heart, birdying the second, again from close range, and picked up three straight strokes from No. 4 to seize command at four-under with Ababa in a flight ahead.
Pagunsan likewise delivered a near-impeccable performance in his first PGT foray since dominating the circuit with a four-leg romp in 2019. Unlike Que, however, he failed to complete a fiery comeback, blowing a four-under card with a triple-bogey 7 on No. 13 on a wayward drive and a three-putt mishap and ending up with a 71 to fall to joint 12th.
“Everything’s good except my driving,” rued Pagunsan, who banged in a couple of monster putts at the front but also missed to drain in a few of them from short range.
But a slew of aces stepped up, including Ababa, who could finish no higher than Top 10 in the first three PGT tournaments this year but went low with the day’s only bogey-free card that featured birdies on Nos. 2, 3, 6, 8 and 15.
“I played really good – driving, irons and putting,” said the soft-spoken Ababa, who tied for 10th at Luisita, shared 14th spot at Caliraya Springs and wound up tied at 25th at Splendido Taal won by Van der Valk last month.
Starting at the backside with a mishit, Gialon failed to get up-and-down on No. 10 but quickly recovered and birdied Nos. 12 and 16 then flashed the form that netted him a huge win at Caliraya Springs to gun down four frontside birdies, spiked by a three-feat binge from No. 4.
“I was on target (with my irons) and my putting clicked,” said Gialon, who struggled on the undulating greens of Splendido and limped to joint 25th after a wire-to-wire win at Caliraya Springs.
“But there’s a lot of strong players, so I’m still a bit wary of my chances. But I sure will do my very best to get another shot (at the title),” added Gialon, when asked of his chances to duplicate his Splendido romp.
But looming large at second is Lascuna, who hit six birdies against two bogeys to seize solo fourth in his strongest start in a long while.
“It was a good game, driving and irons and I’m now more confident with my putting. I really worked hard for this tournament during the break,” said the many-time Order fo Merit winner, who topped the pro-am tournament last Monday.
Van der Valk, who nipped Miguel Tabuena in sudden death to reign at Splendido, struggled trying to measure up with Que and Pagunsan’s power game, reeling with a frontside 37 but rallying with a 34 highlighted by a birdie-eagle feat from No. 15 to get back into the mix in the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.