JESSIE Balasabas, cashing in on his familiarity with Cangolf’s North layout, romped off with a bogey-free six-under 66 for a one-stroke lead over Zanie Boy Gialon as the club bets flourished on their turf to dominate the first round of the P1.5 million ICTSI Canlubang Golf Invitational on Tuesday.
Balasabas flashed his local knowledge of the Robert Trent Jones-designed course from the mounds all the way to the putting greens where he and Gialon trained during their amateur days.
He hit four birdies at the front then birdied the two par-5s at the back for nines of 32-34, a big start for the former national team mainstay still in search of a breakthrough win on the Philippine Golf Tour.
“I’m hitting it well. Good driving and putting,” said Balasabas. “I just hope to sustain it until Friday.”
Gialon, seeking a follow-up to his victory at Royal Northwoods in September, hit one more birdie than Balasabas. But he fumbled with bogeys on two par-3s and settled for a 67.
Cassius Casas and Dante Becierra fired identical 68s.
“My driving and putting just clicked,” said Gialon, who used just 26 putts to string nines of 32-35.
Casas, who also had a storied career at Cangolf, eagled the par-5 14th then birdied two of the last four holes. The defending champion and winner of the ICTSI Iloilo leg opened with a birdie on No. 10, dropped a stroke on the 12th, recovered the shot on No. 17 but fumbled with another missed-green bogey on No. 1 before birdying Nos. 6 and 9.
Becierra, who also honed his skills at Canlubang, finished with three-straight birdies.
Mhark Fernando, one of the best players to come out of the Canlubang golf program, shot a 69 for solo fifth.
Jhonnel Ababa, another club bet, carded a bogey-free 70 to join Marvin Dumandan, Jong Laput, Lawrence Celestino, Charles Hong, Artemio Murakami, Keanu Jahns, Mondilla and Japanese amateur Yuto Katsuragawa.
Arnold Villacencio, who entered the event oozing confidence following a breakthrough win in the Summit Classic two weeks ago, fumbled with two bogeys at the back nine and dropped four straight strokes from No. 4 against two birdies for a four-over 76. He fell to joint 51st.
Art Arbole and Albin Engino shot identical 71s as 16 players broke par with nine others matching par, including Michael Bibat, John Kier Abdon, Benjie Magada, Elliot Hume, Norman de la Pena, Edward Reyes, Jun Bernis, Richard Sinfuego and Robert Pactolerin in the circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc., organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports Phils. Inc., Srixon, Callaway, Mizuno, Empire Golf, Footjoy, Titleist, Custom Clubmakers, Sharp, KZG and Rudy Project.