ORCHARD, labeled by defending champion Cebu Country Club as the dark horse in the 67th PAL Interclub Men’s championship, immediately made its presence felt on Wednesday to instantly transform into a tournament favorite in Bacolod.
John Kier Abdon fired a one-over-par 71 worth 35 points at the tree-lined Binitin layout in Murcia town to lead a well-balanced attack as Orchard, out of the title picture for the longest time in the centerpiece division, took a four-point lead over Del Monte and 14 over the Cebuanos.
Former pro Raymund Sangil tallied 33 like businessman Rodel Mangulabnan and the Dasmarinas, Cavite-based squad counted the 28 of Nicolas Santiago for an opening 129 in the tournament serving as the unofficial team championship in the country.
Orchard, which won the Founder’s Division title in runaway style last year in Cebu, threw away the 24 of Antonio Payumo.
Jelbert Gamolo matched Abdon’s 35 to pace Del Monte, but the 2011 champion got 33 from Magno Arancon and just a combined 57 from its next two players, Julius Bautista with 30 and 27 from Francis Morilla for its 125.
Cebu Country Club, which is seeking the first ‘three-peat’ in club history, got off on the wrong foot with a 115 with Gen Nagai shooting 34 points and the others faring badly on a rather calm day.
Harvey Sytiongsa, who made his first Interclub appearance four years ago, did well with a 29, but former pro Carl Almario and rookie Kiyofumi Takahashi struggled with 26s with the Cebuanos discarding the 25 of lawyer Jovi Neri to trail big early.
Alabang, meanwhile, stood 16 points off the pace with 13-year-old Christopher Popp leading the squad with 30 points as spearhead Andres Saldana struggled off the tees and scored 29.
Ramon Garcia III and Miguel Shah returned 25s, with Alabang throwing away the 24 of Paul Salvador for its 109 in the tournament co-sponsored by CrossOver with Boeing, Philippines Graphic, Stargate Media (People Asia) and Rogue as corporate backers and supported by Airbus, Business Mirror, One Mega Group (Travel Now), Philippine Broadcasting Corporation, Manila Broadcasting Corporation, Petron and Manila Bulletin.
“We wanted to form a strong team at Binitin so we can score big,” non-playing Orchard skipper Francis Montallana said. “Because it is in Binitin where we can score big.”
Action shifts to the much-tougher Marapara layout on Thursday and Orchard, though tentatively, has tapped the five of King and Ace Stehmeier, TJ Benitez, JP De Claro and Ian Arcilla to try and pad the lead or at least hold it going back to Binitin tomorrow.
Sangil, who is in his second year back as an amateur, had four bogeys against just one birdie as he, too, was baffled by the different speeds of the greens even as Abdon had two bogeys and one birdie in an impressive performance.
In the Founder’s division, Valley Golf got 31 points from Eddie Boy Lopez and pooled 114 for a four-point lead over Apo Golf, which was led by the 29 of Chicoy Saavedra.
Victorias Golf held the early Friendship Division lead, pacing UP Tee Jots by 12 after shooting a 94 led by the 30 of Raymond Gomez. Ogie Caja fired 24 points to pace UP, which is just two points ahead of South Cotabato.
Lumbia fired 109 points led by the 31 of David Infante and Dupert Locsin’s 29 for an eight-point bubble over Eagle Ridge, which got 29 points from Kim Dong-hee.