Tainan, Taiwan – Jay Bayron overcame an early mishap with a cluster of birdies and came in one of the late flights with a four-under 68 to trail Taiwanese-American Lein Benjamin by three at the start of the $100,000 Nan Pao TPGA (PGA of Taiwan) Open at the Nan Pao Golf Club yesterday.
Tony Lascuña earlier stumbled at the finish but his 69 likewise proved to be an inspiring start for the two Filipino bets, who stayed in the early mix in a day of torrid scoring where eagles flew and birdies soared despite the tight layoutís unpredictable, undulating surface.
But while Lascuña expected to churn out a fine round in hot conditions, Bayron said he was lucky to rebound from a faulty start that saw him flub a three-footer for par on the first hole but birdied the next and Nos. 8, 9, 13 and 15 to get back into early contention in the second Philippine Golf Tour Asia event held here this year.
"I didn't expect to shoot this card. Given a bad start and the tough greens that were so difficult to read, I considered myself just lucky enough to finish with a 68," said Bayron, who struggled and wound up tied for 27th in the Daan TPGA Open in Taichung last May.
That put Bayron, also out to snap a two-year title spell, at joint 10th with three others, three strokes off the hot-starting Benjamin while Lascuña, who served notice of his title bid by topping the pro-am Wednesday, stood a shot farther back with eight others at 14th place.
With a four-under card after 17 holes, Lascuna earlier looked at a potential birdie off a solid drive on his closing par-5 544-yard hole on No. 9 and went for his driver again from 297 yards out. But he didnít hit it the way he had wanted, the ball fading then finding it later on a plugged lie just before the large pond fronting the green.
He came up short on his third shot, hit it over the green on the next before drilling a five-footer for bogey, one of two blue marks in an otherwise remarkable 36-33 card that dropped him to joint eighth after holding the joint No. 2 spot on the leaderboard with an eight-foot birdie on the par-3 third hole.
"I was really targeting a five- or six-under start and was on target despite missing some birdie chances. But I failed to hit right on my second shot on the ninth," said Lascuña, who sizzled early in hot conditions with tap-in birdies on Nos. 10 and 12 then bounced back from a missed green mishap on No. 14 with birdies on the next two holes, including another ìgimmeî on the par-5 16th.
In calm conditions, the 6639-yard tree-lined course played short to the prosí standards with 14 players gunning down an eagle each, including Benjamin, who scorched the backside with three birdies and an eagle before finishing with flourish of birdies at the front for a seven-under 65 marred by a double-bogey on the 17th on an errant drive that went out of bounds.
He stood a shot ahead of a rallying Lee Cho-Chuan of Taiwan, who also fired an eagle-spiked 66 while Sattaya Supupramai shot a 67 and took the cudgels for the Thais after Wisut Artjanawat, winner of the first Philippine Golf Tour Asia event overseas in Daan TPGA Open in Taichung last May, fumbled with a 75 and in danger of missing the 50-plus ties cut in this fifth leg of the third season of the regionís emerging circuit put up by ICTSI and backed by PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High.
But five Taiwanese also turned in identical five-under cards, including Liu Yu Jui, Hsieh Tung Hung, Chen Tze Chung, Wang Jen Li and Sung Mao Chang, who is seeking redemption for his final round foldup at Daan Open where he blew a six-shot lead in the final round and lost by two to Artjanawat.
But among the early starters, Benjamin, on a break from PGA Tour Series China and China Tour, proved to be the best, bucking a shaky stint on the mound with crisp iron shots and superb putting to put in together a 32-33 card spiked by a chip-in eagle from 10 yards on the par-5 16th and highlighted by a power drive on the 337-yard par-4 No. 4 which landed 36 feet off the cup but muffed the eagle try.
The brawny 28-year-old shotmaker, born in California to Taiwanese parents, missed four fairways but hit all but four greens and made 27 putts
Lascuña actually matched Benjaminís hot start at the back and pulled within two with another birdie on No. 3 but the former three-time PGT Order of Merit champion bungled four straight birdie chances inside eight feet from No. 4.
"Though I missed so many chances, Iím still satisfied with my putting that complemented my long game and iron play. You have to be precise here to score low on the unpredictable surface," said Lascuña, who vowed to stay on an attack mode in tomorrowís (today) second round of the 72-hole championship co-sanctioned by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and TPGA.