JERSON Balasabas charged back from an early hiccup with a cluster of birdies but fumbled with a closing bogey for a 67 and a share of the lead with Orlan Sumcad, Jobim Carlos and Joenard Rates at the start of the ICTSI Villamor Philippine Masters.
Bracing for a long, arduous day after a bogey on No. 2 of the tight, tree-lined layout, Balasabas, who placed eighth here last year, rattled off seven birdies in the next 13 holes in the wind and only missed grabbing the lead with that last-hole miscue, no thanks to an errant drive.
That left him in a tie with the power-hitting Sumcad, the young Carlos and the diminutive Rates, while unheralded Albin Engino carded a 68 for solo fifth at the Villamor Golf Club.
Multi-titled Jay Bayron stood a shot further back at 69 and veterans Rey Pagunsan, Mars Pucay and Gerald Rosales also shot 70s for joint seventh in the early going of the P3 million event.
“I really practiced a lot for this Masters and in preparation for the PGT Asia,” said tje Zamboanga-born Balasabas. “You have to have a solid drive here and be able to make the putts.”
Only four others were able to go under-par with 71s, including Keanu Jahns, Rene Menor, Arnold Villacencio and Japanese Eiichiro Hiyama, while Jhonnel Ababa, Art Arbole, Anthony Fernando, Elmer Salvador, Richard SInfuego and Dutch Guido Van der Valk matched par 72s, as the rest of the starting 108-player field struggled in hot condition in the morning and wavered in the wind in afternoon play.
While Balasabas, Sumcad, Carlos and Rates sizzled, local favorites Clyde Mondilla, Tony Lascuña, and The Country Club Invitational champion Micah Shin of the US failed to break par.
Lascuña, a many-time PGT Order of Merit winner who posted three victories last year, failed to match Carlos’ superb start in one of the featured flights with a wobbly finish of two bogeys in the last four holes. He ended up with a 73 for joint 20th.
Mondilla, whose come-from-behind one-stroke victory over Lascuña, Jhonnel Ababa and American Nicholas Paez here last year anchored his Order of Merit romp, ended up in a share of 25th with 10 others at 74 -seven strokes behind the leaders.