AMERICAN Nicolas Paez and local ace Jay Bayron stumbled with a pair of 74s in varying fashions but kept their 1-2 positions as erstwhile contender Blake Snyder tumbled down with a 77 on a punishing third day in the Aboitiz Invitational at Wack Wack’s East course.
As scores soared on a windy day, Paez and Bayron, despite their over-par cards, remained four and three strokes ahead, respectively, of their pursuers heading to the last 18 holes of what has shaped into a two-man shootout for the top $17,500 purse in this $100,000 championship.
Paez, who parred his last three holes late Thursday to shoot a 68 and grab a one-stroke lead over Bayron and Snyder halfway through the 72-hole championship, recovered from a 38 start and a four-over card after 12 holes with birdies on Nos. 13 and 15 and saved that 74 and a 211.
The 24-year-old American was way off his timing off the tee, either hitting to the left or right at the tight frontside.
“I was struggling a little bit after eight holes. I just told myself to move on and minimize my mistakes. But I finished fairly strong and that’s what mattered,” said Paez.
Bayron, who took charge in the first round with a 67 but dropped to joint second with a 71, regained the lead with a 36 after nine holes but hit back-to-back wild drives to start the backside and made bogeys on Nos. 10 and 11. He fought back with a birdie on No. 13 but dropped another stroke on No. 15 to match Paez’s 74 and remained a stroke adrift.
But it was his spectacular par-save on No. 2, where he hit a wayward drive that landed on the ladies tee, which spiked his round.
“If there was a highlight of the day, that was it,” said Bayron, grinning.
But the inaugural champion in Cebu in 2011 likes his chances for a second Abotiiz win although he stressed the need for solid driving and iron play to foil Paez and the rest of the pursuers.
“I believe I have a perfect chance to win. But I need to play solid off the tee and get my iron game clicking,” said Bayron.
Tony Lascuña continued to make a charge after a disastrous opening 76, following up his second round 70 with a three-under 69 as the former three-time Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit winner moved into joint third with Swede Malcolm Kokocinski, Snyder and Gavin Green of Malaysia at 215.