Sta. Rosa, Laguna—Guido Van der Valk stumbled at the finish but still held on to a two-stroke lead over a charging Clyde Mondilla despite a 74, enabling a host of others to stay in the hunt halfway through the rich The Country Club Invitational at the TCC course here yesterday.
Bucking the heat and the wind that blustered rather late at the back for the second straight day, the Dutchman hit four birdies against two bogeys and threatened to pull away with a two-under card after 13 holes. But just when he thought he had the Tom Weiskoph-designed course all figured out, it bit back and he closed out with what he termed as a “shameful” finish – four bogeys in the last five holes.
From 6-up in one stretch, Van der Valk saw his lead slash down to two with that 35-39 card and a one-over 145 as Mondilla endured a roller-coaster backside start to shoot a 70 and assume the challenger’s role at 147, well within sight of another TCC triumph following his breakthrough Solaire Philippine Open victory here last year.
“Bad finish,” rued the 40-year-old Van der Valk. “But here at TCC, if you sort of start making a few bogeys, it’s so easy to keep on making them because there is not a single easy hole on this course. But making four bogeys in the last five is a shame.”
But TCC is simply living up to its toughness where survival is a major concern, a test not only of shotmaking but also of will and character and where the only predictable thing is its unpredictability.
Mondilla fought back strong from a harrowing 77 start but birdied two of the first four holes, yielded a stroke on No. 5 then went on a birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie roll to start the last nine holes and muffed a couple of birdie chances.
“My ball-striking was quite okay and hit all greens. But I struggled with my putting and missed a lot of chances,” said Mondilla, who headed straight to the practice green to polish his stroke as he steps up his drive for a crack at another major crown in this event put up by ICTSI president/chairman Ricky Razon in 2003 to honor the memory of his father and ICTSI founder Don Pocholo, himself an avid golfer.
Former champion (2004) Tony Lascuña, multi-titled Jay Bayron and young Rupert Zaragosa all pooled 148s after matching 73s while erstwhile second-running Ira Alido likewise stayed in contention at 150 after a 76 marred by back-to-back closing bogeys.
The diminutive Zaragosa eagled No. 10 and birdied the 13th to offset a bogey on the first and earned a shot at the lead with one-over overall card. But he dropped three straight strokes from No. 14 and ended up with that 73.
Unheralded Albin Engino, who opened with a 76 Wednesday, birdied three of the first six holes in impressive fashion but made a triple-bogey on the par-4 No. 7 then bogeyed three of the next nine before drilling a birdie on No. 17 to save a 74 and tie Alido at sixth.
Despite assembling identical 151s, Jhonnel Ababa (72), Michael Bibat (73) and Reymon Jaraula (73) still got a shot at the top P1.5 million purse in this kickoff leg of the 2020 Philippine Golf Tour, given the course conditions and where each hole varies in character in every swirl of the wind.
Keanu Jahns shot the tournament-best 69 with a best-start ever made at TCC – four straight birdies. But like the rest of the select 30-player field, he wobbled the rest of the way although he gunned down two more birdies against three bogeys for that 32-37 for joint 11th at 152 with Spain’s Marcos Pastor, who double bogeyed the first two holes but eagled the par-5 10th to salvage a 74.
Still, the topsy-turvy day still belonged to Van der Valk, who nearly holed in a pitch-in eagle on the par-4 No. 4. He dropped a stroke on the next but hit back-to-back birdies from No. 7 (20 feet) and (5 feet) then negated his bogey on the ninth with a 15-foot birdie putt on the long par-3 11th off a driver tee-shot.
But he failed to rescue pars from the bunkers on Nos. 14 and 15, missed the green on the 16th and three-putted the last from 35 feet.