Lubao, Pampanga—Clyde Mondilla put on a late assault to check a fumbling frontside start and force a four-way tie for the lead at three-under 69 at the start of the windy first round of the ICTSI Pradera Verde Classic at the sprawling Pradera Verde layout here yesterday.
Reeling down the crowded leaderboard with a four-bogey, three-birdie stint after nine holes, Mondilla got his rhythm in time, stringing four straight birdies from No. 12 and putting himself back in the early mix of contenders in the $100,000 event serving as the penultimate leg of the 2019-20 Philippine Golf Tour Asia season.
But the reigning Philippine Open champion faced a curious blend of rivals in pursuit of a third PGTA diadem, led by flightmate and the winningest player on the fledgling circuit, the three-peat seeking Jhonnel Ababa, veteran campaigner Guido Van der Valk of the Netherlands and group-mate and tour rookie Jack Lane-Weston from Australia.
“I played good and the course is in perfect shape,” said Mondilla, the reigning PGTA Order of Merit winner who ruled the Riviera leg of the circuit’s inaugurals in 2017 then bested a tough international field to win the country’s premier championship at The Country Club last year.
Ababa also leaned on a late charge to launch his drive for a record third straight championship here, birdying four of the last eight, including a 22-footer on the 17th, against a bogey, so did Van der Valk, who shot three birdies in the last seven to break an even par round.
Lane-Weston, on the other hand, bucked a bogey on No. 4 with birdies on Nos. 5, 8 and 9 then bounced back from a bogey-mishap on the 11th with two birdies in the last six holes of the 7262-yard layout that puts premium on driving and putting.
“This is the best course I’ve ever played thus far,” said the 24-year-old Lane-Weston, only in his sixth PGTA tournament but who is coming off a strong joint third place effort with Mondilla at Summit Point last November.
The power-hitter from Gold Coast hit 10 fairways and missed four greens but said he could’ve shot better if not for a couple flubbed birdie chances at the back.
“I didn’t hole so many putts,” said Lane-Weston, who anchored his first round 34-35 card with three birdies against a bogey at the front. He bogeyed the par-3 11th on a poor tee-shot but recovered with birdies on Nos. 13 and 18 to get into the thick of things.
“It was a good round, saving a couple of pars,” said Ababa, who ruled this event with a pair of 10-under 278s but remained wary of his chances against a slew of rivals raring to foil his bid.
“But I need to level up to win again since there are many good players around,” added Ababa.
They include Van der Valk, who has captured two titles on the PGT but remained winless on the region’s emerging circuit put up by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. with PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High as chief backers.
“I played so-so in the early going but it’s good that I was able to regain my bearing at the back,” said the 39-year-old Dutchman who has captured two titles on the PGT.
The foursome wrested a one-stroke lead over unfancied Dino Villanueva, who gunned down two birdies in his closing frontside to save a 70, while eight others submitted identical 71s in grey skies at the long 7262-yard layout that puts premium on driving and putting.
They include Michael Bibat, Ryan Bonaobra, Keanu Jahns, Reymon Jaraula, Jet Mathay, Elmer Salvador, Rupert Zaragosa and Englishman Joe Knox while Japanese Kei Matsuoka and Yuta Sudo and Peter Stojanovski of Macedonia matched par 72s.
Singaporean Vikkash Babu and Scot Ryan Hood took charge early with three birdies each at the back but both stumbled at the front, dropping them instead to joint 17th at 73 with Ira Alido, Tony Lascuña, Sean Talmadge, Spain’s Marcos Pastor and Korean Shin Seung Woo.
Other pre-tournament favorites also groped for form in tough conditions with Aussie Damien Jordan, winner at Aboitiz Invitational last year, hobbling with a 74, former leg winner Justin Quiban carding a 75, former national champion Lloyd Goand Americans Lexus Keoninh and Josh Salah fumbling with 77s, multi-titled and another former leg champion Jay Bayron stumbling with a 78, former PGT OOM winner Jobim Carlos, former leg winner James Ryan Lam and Frankie Minoza limping with 79s and in danger of missing the 50-plus ties cut.
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