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Friday, June 21, 2024

Ababa surges as local aces make move in Davao

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DAVAO—Jhonnel Ababa charged to the top with a two-under 70 in another challenging day at the Apo course here Wednesday, grabbing a one-stroke lead over Korean Gwon Minwook halfway through the 2024 ICTSI Apo Golf Classic.

Despite a wobbly start at the backnine, Ababa bounced back with a run of five birdies, finishing with a 20-foot putt on No. 18. He sustained his attack at the front, birdying Nos. 1 and 8 to stay in command but failed to get up-and-down on the ninth for a pair of 35s.

While content with his lead at 143, the ace Davaoeño shotmaker acknowledged the importance of the third round in maintaining his position while underlining the need to improve his driving and iron play.

“Masama ang palo sa umpisa, pero naka-recover naman agad,” said Ababa, who bogeyed Nos. 10 and 12 but rebounded with three birdies in the next six holes, capped by a long putt on the par-5 18th.

But he remained cautious of the strong competition with Minwook and several others staying within striking distance.

“Importante bukas (Thursday), kailangan maka-pondo ka na para sa last day di ka maiwan,” said the two-leg winner of last year’s edition of the annual circuit sponsored by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.

Minwook, who tied for fifth in last week’s PGT Q-School at South Pacific, struck back from a double bogey on No. 12 with an eagle on the next and a birdie on No. 18 to fire a 71, moving to solo second at 144.

Local talents Tony Lascuña and Jay Bayron also positioned themselves as contenders, along with 10 others, including fellow Davaoeños Zanieboy Gialon and Edmar Salvador, Jr.

Lascuña, the Tour’s only four-time OOM winner who ruled this event in 2019, carded a 70, propelling him to third at 145, while Bayron, out to snap a long title spell, likewise remained in the hunt with a 72 for a 146, catching Gialon and first round joint leader Ozeki Kakeru from Japan.

Gialon, who last won at Caliraya Springs in 2022, blew a one-under card with bogeys in the last two holes at the front for a 73, while Kakeru also reeled back in a frontside finish, dropping strokes on Nos. 6 and 8 for a 74.

Notably, Kristoffer Arevalo shot the tournament-best four-under 68, highlighted by three birdies in the last six holes as he fought back from a 77 to join Salvador and Dutchman Guido van der Valk at seventh with 147s.

Salvador, who matched Kakeru’s opening 72 Tuesday, struggled with a 75 while van der Valk squandered a solid backside 33 with bogeys on Nos. 2, 4 and 6 to settle for a 72.

But the title race remains tight with several players grouped closely, promising an exciting third round in the P2.5 million championship supported by PGTI official apparel Kampfortis Golf.

They include Ira Alido, Russell Bautista, Japanese Kei Matsuoka, Korean Hyun Ho Rho and Rupert Zaragosa, who all assembled 148s. Alido, Matsuoka and Rho shot 73s, Bautista carded a 74, while Zaragosa fumbled with a 73.

Zaragosa, in chase of a second win after dominating the Iloilo leg last year, threatened to within a stroke off Ababa with a three-under card with three holes left at the front. But he lost his momentum and putting touch, closing out with a bogey-double-bogey skid to drop to joint 10th.

Forty-one players advanced to the last 36 holes with last week’s Q-School topnotcher Aidric Chan and two-time elims winner Toru Nakajima from Japan barely making it through with 154s after 75 and 77, respectively.

Among those who fell by the wayside were last year’s Valley leg runaway winner Reymon Jaraula (76-156), last week’s Q-School No. 2 Kuresh Samanodi (73-157), former leg winner Arnold Villacencio (76-160), last week’s joint fifth placer Drew Proctor of the US (79-160), consistent Top 10 finisher Dino Villanueva (80-161) and former OOM winner Jobim Carlos (82-166).

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