STA. ROSA, Laguna – Steve Lewton bucked the gale-force wind and The Country Club’s daunting length for the second straight day, carding a one-under 71 to wrest a two-stroke lead over erstwhile leader John Catlin, Miguel Tabuena and two others halfway through the Solaire Philippine Open on Friday.
Lewton, one of six players who shot a 70 in the first round of the US$400,000 event, checked an impending skid with a gutsy finish at TCC’s feared closing holes, birdying the par-3 17th then salvaging par in the long, difficult 18th.
With a three-under 141 aggregate, Lewton moved 36 holes away from becoming the first Englishman to win Asia’s oldest National Open, which has produced winners from the US, Australia, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Scotland in its 99 years.
But the Open weekend is expected to be a survival of the fittest although Lewton’s two-shot lead could prove to be a big cushion with the wind tipped to blow harder at the 7735-yard Tom Weiskoph-designed layout.
“I played very steady. I had some silly mistakes but I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens,” said Lewton, who beat Tony Lascuña and Brazilian Adilson Da Silva by two to capture the Asian Tour’s Taiwan Masters crown in 2014 for his biggest career win.
With all the changes the TCC had undergone to conform to world standards, it remained tough for anyone trying to win a crown.
“It’s really a good test. The course has changed but I still like it. The wind is strong but not ridiculous. But the past few weeks I’ve been practicing in strong winds,” said the 6-foot-3 leader.
Tabuena barely survived another trying day, birdying the par-5 for the second straight round for a 73 that proved enough to put the young Filipino spearhead into a four-way for second at 143 with Catlin, Thai Rattanon Wannasrichan and long-hitting Johannes Veerman, also of the US.
Catlin, who impressed the elite field with an opening 68, battled back from a five-over card in the first five holes with birdies on Nos. 8 and 13, finishing with a 75; Wannasrichan also birdied No. 8 to stay in the mix with a 71.
While Lewton continued to master the TCC with superb shotmaking and iron play, Veerman flaunted his power game, netting two eagles at Nos. 8 and 10 to turn in the day’s best of three-under 69 after an opening 74 in the 72-hole championship held in cooperation with Meralco and PLDT.
Lascuña put in another quiet one-birdie, one-bogey effort for another 72, his 144 tying him with former Solaire Open winner Lin Wen-tang of Taiwan, who hobbled with a 74.
American Will Cannon and Japanese Toru Nakajima, who fumbled with identical 75s, Singapore’s Mitchell Slorach, who had a 73, and Thai Suradit Yongcharoenchai, who rallied with a 70, shared eighth spot at 145.
But while Tabuena kept his title-retention drive going and Lascuña stayed in the hunt for a breakthrough win, former champion Angelo Que failed to take advantage of an early tee-off and skied to a six-over 78 after going seven-over in two of the four par-3s.
The three-time Asian Tour winner tumbled to joint 15th at 148 with six others.
Looking good with an opening 70 despite a late start Thursday, Que birdied No. 14 where he teed off but bogeyed the tough No. 16 and dumped two balls into the hazard on the par-3 17th to fall behind. He did birdie the difficult No. 18 but made a triple bogey on the par-3 No. 6.
Other local bets who advanced to the Open weekend were Justin Quiban (70-149), Rufino Bayron (75-151), Frankie Miñoza (77-151), Joenard Rates (77-151), Elmer Salvador (78-151), Gerald Rosales (76-152), Jhonnel Ababa (81-153), Zanieboy Gialon (78-154) and Orlan Sumcad (78-154).
Among the notables who missed the 65-players plus cut at 10-over 154 were Jay Bayron (79-155), Thai Jazz Janewattananond (79-156), Korean-American Micah Shin (77-156), Dutch Guido Van der Valk (77-156), former champions Cassius Casas (79-161) and Taiwanese Yeh Chang-ting (80-151), Clyde Mondilla (74-162), Jobim Carlos (88-167) and Mars Pucay (82-164).