CANLUBANG – Cassius Casas showed flashes of his old brilliance as he fired a six-under 66 for a two-stroke lead over Jun Bernis after the first round of the P1 million Canlubang Golf Invitational at Cangolf’s North course on Wednesday.
Brandishing a reworked swing and cashing in on his superb putting all day, Casas went to work early with three straight birdies from No. 2 then added four more to negate a lone bogey mishap on the par-3 No. 6, giving him the needed strong start in a 54-hole tournament offering P200,000 to the winner.
“I feel good about my chances this week. I adjusted my swing a bit and had good looks at the target,” said Casas, who used to dominate the local circuit in the early 2000s until injuries and poor form slowed him down the last few years.
Bernis also liked his chances after rebounding from a roller-coaster round at the back with three birdies coming home, wresting solo second with a 68 while defending champion Zanie Boy Gialon strung up three straight birdies from No. 8 to fire a 69 for joint third with Charles Hong and Japanese Toru Nakajima.
Jhonnel Ababa faded in a shootout with Casas and Gialon in one of the featured flights of the day with a shaky windup of four bogeys against two birdies as he dropped to joint sixth with Orlan Sumcad and Jessie Balasabas with two-under 70s.
Ababa actually matched Casas’ outward 32 but the three-leg winner in 2011 lost his touch with bogeys on Nos. 11 and 12 for a closing 38.
Mhark Fernando proved to be a big letdown despite an opening birdie on No. 10 as the ICTSI Riviera Classic runaway winner fumbled with three bogeys for a 39 before settling for a one-birdie stint at the front for a 74.
He stood eight shots off Casas, a big deficit with just 36 holes left to play in the event serving as the penultimate leg of the 15-stage circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc. and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Three other top bets groped for form and joined Fernando in 28th place, including 2011 champion Artemio Murakami, ICTSI Tagaytay Midlands winner Carl Santos-Ocampo and Elmer Saban, who beat Casas for the ICTSI Splendido Classic crown last month.
Clyde Mondilla, Paul Echavez and Richard Abaring all shot one-under 71s while Mars Pucay, Marvin Dumandan, Randy Garalde, Anthony Fernando, Lawrence Celestino and Jun Rates matched par 72s in tough condition.
But Casas, who had just one “lucky” win and one runner-up finish in the five-year-old ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour, made the most of the lift, clean and place rule, coming through with superb iron shots and exceptional putting to dominate the field.
“He played in a different level,” said Gialon of Casas, who snapped a long title drought in the 2010 ICTSI Del Monte Championship when three players were disqualified on a final round infraction.
The other backers of the event are Nike Golf, Srixon, Custom Clubmakers, Pacsports, Cleveland Golf, Callaway, Ping, Mizuno, Empire Golf and Sports Shop, FootJoy, Titleist, Sharp, BMW and Gergia Energy Foods.