JERSON Balasabas birdied the tough par-3 17th to save an eagle-spiked 72 for a one-stroke lead in the first round of The Country Club Invitational on Tuesday in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
Balasabas, seeking to check a dip in form after scoring a breakthrough in the Philippine Masters last year, hit a pitch-in eagle on the par-4 No. 1 and went three-under with a birdie on the par-3 third hole.
But like the rest of the select 30-player field in this P5 million championship, he stumbled in other baffling holes of the demanding Tom Weiskopf-designed layout, hitting bogeys on No. 6 and double-bogey on No. 11, both par-3s.
Balasabas made birdie on No. 13, suffered back-to-back bogeys from No. 15 before moving on top with birdie on the 17th to set the pace in the 72-hole championship kicking off the Philippine Golf Tour’s milestone 10th season.
“The strong wind is but a normal thing here but it was super hot out there,” said Balasabas.
The winds made club selections very tough, and no one was able to break par.
Clyde Mondilla, winner of the Solaire Philippine Open at TCC three weeks ago, was two-under after 10 holes but bogeyed the next, regained the stroke on No. 13, only to drop strokes on Nos. 14, 16 and 17 and fall to joint second with 73 with Angelo Que and Tony Lascuña in the event also known as the Don Pocholo Razon Memorial Cup put up by ICTSI chair Ricky Razon in 2003 to honor the memory of his father and ICTSI founder.
Except for Balasabas and Peter Stojanovski of Macedonia, the rest of the early contenders floundered on the par-72 layout’s tough finishing holes with three-time champion Que and former winner Lascuña holing out with bogeys.
Some struggled early, including reigning PGT Order of Merit champion Jobim Carlos, who made a horrific 13 on the tight, tricky par-4 No. 4.
“You can actually see the green off the mound but you have to be extra cautious and precise in your shot to avoid getting into trouble. I just felt sad it happened to me,” rued Carlos, who lost five balls on the hole on three OBs and two wayward drives on his way to an 85.
Jhonnel Ababa birdied Nos. 13 and 14 but bogeyed No. 15 to settle for a 74 for joint fifth with Keanu Jahns, who also bogeyed No. 18, while Korean Kim Joo Hyung also birdied Nos. 13 and 14 but bogeyed the last two to slip to a share of seventh at 75 with Aussie Tim Stewart, who bogeyed No. 16, and Stojanovski, who hit a birdie on No. 16.
Juvic Pagunsan mixed three birdies against the same number of bogeys at the front then birdied the par-5 10th to erase the stigma of his woeful 11 that cut short his stint in the Philippine Open and gain a share of the lead. But he made a wobbly finish, bogeying No. 14 and dropping two strokes on the next before closing out with three straight bogeys.
He wound up with a 77 for joint 13th with Jay Bayron and one stroke behind the 76 scorers who included Albin Engino, Justin Quiban and Pete Vilairatana of the US.
Korean-American Micah Shin, the first non-Filipino winner of the event put up by ICTSI chairman Ricky Razon in 2003 to honor the memory of his father and ICTSI founder Don Pocholo, recovered from a 41 start with birdies on Nos. 10, 12 and 14.
But he double bogeyed the long par-4 16th and dropped three strokes on the 18th to limp with a 79 for joint 17th with Michael Bibat, James Ryan Lam and Nilo Salahog, a stroke behind American Lexus Keoninh and Dutch Guido Van der Valk, who hobbled with 78s.