Clark Freeport Zone—Guido van der Valk put up a solid start but only pulled ahead on a stirring eagle-spiked windup as he led the assault on Mimosa Plus’ Acacia Lakeview course with a 66, one stroke ahead of four others after 18 holes of the ICTSI Mimosa Plus Championship here in Pampanga yesterday.
After birdying the first three odd-numbered holes, Van der Valk reeled back with a miscue on the par-3 No. 13 on what he described as a “sloppy” shot but closed out with a birdie-eagle-par-birdie feat to string a pair of 33s and surge past Nilo Salahog, Reymon Jaraula, Japanese Toru Nakajima and Taiwanese Ting Yu Chen.
The four matched 67s in varying fashions in sweltering conditions while Jhonnel Ababa, Dino Villanueva, Michael Bibat, Luis Bagtas and Korean Min Seong Kim posted identical 68s and a mix of seasoned campaigners and young guns turned in identical 69s in an expected day of low scoring at the relatively flat, short 6,508-yard layout.
But the par-72 course, one of the two championship layouts at the sprawling Mimosa Plus complex, the other being the Mountainview, still withstood the pros’ assault with its tough pin placements, foiling a number of birdie opportunities.
“Even though it’s short, you have to hit it on the right side (of the holes) because there’s a lot of hazards out there that it’s easy to hit it in if you don’t quite catch the shots,” said van der Valk. “And the pins were not that easy. They try to keep the scoring as controlled as possible, I think.”
Still, the Dutchman’s blistering start fueled hopes of him closing out the Philippine Golf Tour season the way he had opened it. He retained The Country Club Invitational, the flagship tournament of each PGT calendar, last February, but failed to nail a regular Tour title, finishing tied for second in the Villamor Philippine Masters. He also had Top 7 finishes and missed the cut just once at Luisita.
Van der Valk’s 66 also became the course mark, the P2 million championship being the first event Mimosa Plus is hosting since new owners Filinvest took over in 2016 and developed, renovated modernized the two courses with the help of Nelson & Haworth Architects.
To go it all the way, he underlined the need to stay focused and patient, saying: “In this hot weather, you have to make sure to concentrate on every shot because I was a little sloppy on one of them and I made a bogey (No. 13).”
“It’s a course where you create a lot of birdie chances so you sort on need to stay patßient because you cannot hole them all evenß… though you think you should. So that’s the key,” said van der Valk, who also credited his wife Lorabelle’s help on his bag.
“I’m lucky, my wife caddied for me, so she kept me cool and I was good,” he added.
Salahog also did good and found himself in the early mix again although this time, he vowed to keep going and get a clear shot at the elusive first PGT crown.
“Andito na naman tayo, pero sana magtuloy-tuloy na,” said Salahog, who showed up the big guns in the first two rounds of the South Pacific Classic but limped in the last two days and wound up tied for 11th.
He shot five birdies in the last nine holes, including three straight from No. 10, for a 36-31 as Salahog tied Jaraula, Nakajima and Chen at second.
Nakajima, a former leg winner coming off a stint in the Japan Challenge Tour, and Chen, an invitee of the organizing Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., produced a pair of five-under cards that also stood out in the early going of the 72-hole championship backed by PGTI official apparel Kampfortis Golf. The former anchored his 32-35 on a four-birdie splurge coming in at the front, while the latter flashed top form on a course he hardly had knowledge of, gunning eight birdies against three bogeys for a 34-33.
“I think my short game and good putting,” said Nakajima when asked of what spiked his impressive round.
“It’s my first time to play here (in the Philippines) and just practiced yesterday (Monday) and made a pretty good score today (Tuesday),” said Chen, 22, who turned pro earlier this year after capping his stint in the amateurs with a victory in the Faldo Series Asia Grand Finals.
He credited his long game and putting for his big start, highlighted by a putt from 30 feet out on No. 3 for birdie. He also drilled in a couple of long putts but made three bogeys on missed green mishaps.
Jaraula, runaway winner at Valley, posted the biggest comeback in the day, overcoming a frontside 37 with a closing 30 laced by two eagles, including a pitch-in feat on the par-4 No. 11. He birdied Nos. 13 and 15 and eagled the par-5 16th to force a four-way tie for second.
Meanwhile, making up the three-under par scorers are young turks Kristoffer Arevalo, Russell Bautista and Elee Bisera, who crowded Jerson Balasabas, Marvin Dumandan, Keanu Jahns, Mars Pucay and Rupert Zaragosa at 11th while Tony Lascuna, Josh Jorge, Gabriel Manotoc, Paul Echavez, Korean Seong Guk Kim and Elmer Salvador matched 70s to make it a crowded leaderboard.