ELMER Saban and Randy Garalde took different routes but produced the same results as they each shot three-under 69s to seize a one-stroke lead over Jay Bayron, Jhonnel Ababa, and Ferdie Aunzo at the start of the ICTSI Canlubang Golf Invitational on Wednesday at Cangolf’s North course in Laguna.
Saban, his lean frame belying his power off the tee, used a fine start of 34 to set his bid in motion then recovered from a bogey on No. 12 with two birdies inside six feet in the last five holes for that 69 and the early lead in the P1 million event.
Garalde, who had a career-best finish of joint second at Rancho Palos Verdes in September, made an eagle-2 on No. 8 then birdied the last three holes to join flightmate Saban at the helm with Bayron and Ababa rallying with 33s to catch Aunzo at third.
Mhark Fernando, winner of the last leg in Calatagan, also put himself in contention with a 71 in a tie with unheralded Pepito Jomar while leg winners Zanie Boy Gialon and Charles Hong matched par 72s to tie Jun Bernis and veteran Robert Pactolerin in eighth place in the 54-hole tournament organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Garalde had a disastrous start with bogeys on three of the first five holes, but holed out with a wedge shot from 65 yards on No. 8 then hit a birdie on the par-3 No. 11 to draw level par.
“I didn’t expect to lead. I just played my game and tried to get back and match Saban’s hot start,” said Garalde, adding that he hopes to enjoy the last two rounds and play pressure-free.
Expected to press his bid is Aunzo, who took charge early with a 33 despite an opening-hole bogey and threatened to pull away with another birdie on the 10th. But the former amateur hotshot, who has never tasted victory since winning during the first year of the circuit in 2009, bogeyed two of the next three holes to fall adrift.
Ababa, chasing his first win after racking up three victories last year, birdied his last three holes while Bayron, winner on the Asian Development Tour two weeks ago, also made three birdies at the back.
Frankie Miñoza, winner of the Japan Seniors Open two weeks ago, had a double-bogey on the first hole and mixed three birdies with the same number of bogeys for a 74.
Defending champion Artemio Murakami had a dismal 79 and was in danger of missing the cut at 55th place in the event backed by Empire Golf, Titleist, Footjoy, Callaway, TaylorMade, Mizuno, Srixon, Nike Golf, Custom Clubmakers and Sharp with Balls, Studio 23, Pinoygolfer.com and Inquirer Golf as media partners.