TARLAC – Miguel Tabuena salvaged a 71 in a virtual reprise of his first round and took his familiar place atop a Philippine Golf Tour leaderboard halfway through the ICTSI Luisita Championship on Wednesday.
Tabuena overcame another wobbly start at the tight Luisita layout with a strong finish in sweltering heat, birdying two of the last five holes at the front to save a 34-37 and seize control of the field that had started to get back into the groove two following a year-long hiatus.
“I got off to a really bad start again. At one point, I was 3-over already but I managed to fight back and shoot one-under,” said Tabuena, whose four-under 140 total netted him a one-stroke lead over erstwhile frontrunner Michael Bibat and a steady Nilo Salahog, who are tied at 141 after a 73 and 70, respectively.
All to play for
With Marvin Dumandan fighting back with a 69 to move to fourth at 142, and the pair of Tony Lascuña and Clyde Mondilla assembling 143s after a 69 and 71, respectively, for joint fifth, the P2 million kickoff leg of this year’s PGT put up by ICTSI could be heading to a frenetic finish on Friday.
Tabuena, who bucked a two-over card after three holes to shoot a 69 on Tuesday, reeled back again on a bogey on No. 10 and a double bogey on the 14th. But like in the first round, the three-time winner here, including the Philippine Open in 2015, recouped with birdies on Nos. 15 and 18 then broke a run of pars at the front with birdies on Nos. 4 and 8.
“The game is not where it’s supposed to be, very rusty. But I guess everyone here is not in their A-game because we haven’t been playing,” said Tabuena. “Hopefully my game begins to get better and better.”
He also stressed the need to re-energize given the tough conditions at the onset of summer.
“Just want to stay hydrated and make sure I’ll have enough energy for the next two days,” he said.
But at least five players of varying skills stayed within striking distance of the new leader, including Bibat, who survived a wild frontside ride but caved in when the going got tougher and hotter in the last nine holes.
Leader by one over Tabuena with an opening 69, Bibat birdied two of the last three holes at the front to save a 35 in a topsy-turvy start marred by two bogeys and a double bogey against three other birdies as he held sway with four-under overall total.
But he bogeyed the 10th, muffed a couple of birdie chances then dropped another stroke on the challenging par-3 17th to close out with a birdie-less backside for a 35-38.
Salahog, hardly rusty after a long layoff, birdied Nos. 9 and 10 for the second straight day and his back-to-back feat from No. 3 negated his miscues on Nos. 6 and 18 as he put in a 34-36 in a big follow-up to his opening 71.
“I’ve been hitting it pretty good and though I missed some putts, I also made quite some, including a couple of par-saves,” said Salahog, who tied for ninth in the last PGT leg at Eagle Ridge in March 2021 before the tour took a long break.
Dumandan, a former national standout out to snap a long title spell, broke a par-game at the front with four birdies in the first seven holes at the back. He could’ve joined Bibat and Salahog at second but bogeyed the 17th.
Lascuña also served notice of his title bid, dishing out a bogey-free 69 that pulled him with three strokes off Tabuena with Mondilla likewise pressing his own drive in the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. with a one-under card anchored on two birdies in the last three holes at the front for a 35-36.
Rookie pro Sean Ramos faltered with a 73 after a 71 and dropped to seventh at 144 while Jhonnel Ababa blew a four-under card after six holes at the back that put him in the crowded leaderboard as he made four bogeys and had a double bogey on No. 2 to finish with a 74. He fell to joint eighth at 145 with Jay Bayron and Reymon Jaraula, who matched par 72s, and Zanieboy Gialon, who tripped with a 73.
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