Sta. Rosa, Laguna—Guido Van der Valk checked an impending skid with a brilliant windup, birdying the 18th to salvage a 74 and snare the lead as erstwhile co-leader Jay Bayron wavered in a disastrous finish halfway through The Country Club Invitational here yesterday.
Van der Valk had already stepped out of the players’ tent ruing his day-long struggle on TCC’s tricky surface long before Bayron came in ruffled by the winds in the last flight with a 76, virtually unaware that he had taken control of the field at three-over 147 and 36 holes away from completing a back-to-back championship in the Philippine Golf Tour’s centerpiece event.
“I hit it pretty good today (yesterday) but didn’t really hole enough putts inside 8 feet,” said Van der Valk, whose flubbed par-saving putts on Nos. 9, 11, 13 and 16 put to naught his 20-foot birdie on the par-5 second hole.
But he hit a good drive on the 18th then defied the wind and the menacing lake with a superb 5-wood approach from 205 yards to within five feet for birdie and a 36-38, virtually matching Bayron’s closing feat Tuesday that shoved the latter to the first round lead in this P6 million championship.
With Bayron blowing a gutsy even-par card with three straight bogeys from No. 13 and a mishap on the closing hole, Van der Valk took charge by one over Clyde Mondilla, the very player he nipped in winning this event, previously billed as the Don Pocholo Memorial, in 2020.
Mondilla, who played in the threesome of Van der Valk and Michael Bibat in the first two days, also left early with 75, and like the Dutchman, the 2019 Philippine Open champion here struggled on the greens and believed he had dropped out of the shared lead.
He was right, but he was also right behind the new solo leader.
“Mabigat ung 3-over pero pwede pa din, may two rounds pa,” said Mondilla, who assembled a 148. “I need some luck on putting.”
Despite his 75, the Del Monte ace stood just one stroke adrift of Van der Valk, setting the stage for a rematch of the 2020 championship with Zanieboy Gialon joining the featured threesome in today’s (Thursday) pivotal round.
Bayron’s fumbling finish and a four-over card dropped him to joint third at 149 with Gialon and Shin, whose even par 72s proved as the best in another punishing day and after 36 holes of the championship.
Gialon, runaway winner at Caliraya Springs last year, missed joining Mondilla at second with a last-hole bogey, while Shin, the 2018 TCC champion, squandered his bid for joint lead with a double-bogey on the layout’s signature par-3 17th.
“I aimed for the pin but hit it fat and hit the water,” said the long-hitting Shin, who rebounded from a bogey on No. 2 with birdies on Nos. 5, 7 and 10. “I need to play better (in the last two days) and try not to make any bogey.”
Gialon, meanwhile, stressed the need to sharpen his short game to contend for the record P2 million top purse, saying: “I need my pitch-and-putt game to click.”
“Humirap ang course pero masaya pa din kahit nag-76,” said Bayron, who with brother Rufino lost to Frankie Minoza in a playoff in 2013. He grabbed the solo lead with a bogey-birdie stint in the first two holes as the rest fell off the leaderboard with over-par scores in blustery conditions. He kept an even-par card up to the 12th then faded after failing to get up-and-down on Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 18.
But a slew of others lurked behind, guaranteeing a wild chase in the last 36 holes of this blue-ribbon event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Young Sean Ramos hobbled with bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 for a 75 but stayed in the hunt at sixth with 150, three strokes off Van der Valk, while first round co-leader Jerson Balasabas fell with a thud with a birdie-less 78 and slipped to joint seventh at 151 with Minoza (74), Art Arbole (75), Michael Bibat (76) and Marvin Dumandan (77).
Jhonnel Ababa and Mars Pucay matched 78s for identical 152s while 2004 champion Tony Lascuna hardly improved from a 77 with a 76 for a 153 in a tie with Ira Alido, who limped with a 77, while Lloyd Go lost three strokes on the 17th and wound up with a 78 for a 154, seven strokes off the defending champion.