RUFINO BAYRON outgunned fancied Juvic Pagunsan in a frontside duel and shot a five-under 67 but found a charging Korean amateur Hwang Kang Yul as co-leader at the start of the P1 million ICTSI Calatagan Challenge on Wednesday in Batangas.
Bayron, seeking his first pro win after humbling the pros as an amateur at Valley Golf four years ago, held his ground against the returning Pagunsan at the back then hit three birdies against a bogey to complete a 34-33 card in the morning session.
But Hwang, playing out of Riviera, charged home in one of the late-afternoon flights with a bogey-free 67, capped by a birdie on the 18th to force a tie with Bayron, two strokes ahead of Joenard Rates, who pressed his bid with three birdies in a six-hole stretch linking both nines for a 69.
Pagunsan, making his first appearance on the local tour since joining the Japan PGA Tour last April, had an eagle-spiked 34 stint at the back. But the reigning Asian Tour and the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour No. 1 wavered at the front, bogeying the last two holes for a 72.
The shotmaker from Bacolod slipped five shots off the pace in joint ninth although he is expected to quickly bounce back and put himself in contention for the top P200,000 prize in the 13th leg of the 15-stage circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Like Pagunsan, who finished second in the Japan Open two weeks ago, Bayron also had a shaky finish, bogeying the tough par-3 No. 8 although the former amateur hotshot had built enough cushion with birdies on Nos. 2, 3 and 7.
The 19-year-old Hwang made quite an impression by making birdies on two of his first four holes then birdied the difficult par-3 eighth to go three-under at the turn. He played pressure-free throughout the day, hitting another birdie on No. 14 before closing out with his fifth to share the day’s scoring honors.
Rates bucked a bogey on No. 12 with four birdies, including back-to-back from No. 17 then rammed in another on the par-5 No. 4 to string nines of 35-34.
Jhonnel Ababa, who routed the field by six here to cap a three-win season last year, stayed within striking distance with a two-under 70 in a tie with Arnold Villacencio and Marvin Dumandan at fourth in the 54-hole tournament sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
Charles Hong, winner of the Pueblo de Oro crown last month, birdied No. 3 then recovered from three straight bogeys from No. 7 with a three-birdie binge from No. 12 to salvage a 71 for joint fifth with the power-hitting Orlan Sumcad.
Joining Pagunsan at 72 were Rolando Marabe, Richard Sinfuego, Mhark Fernando and Ferdie Aunzo, while Elmer Salvador groped for form all day and carded a 73 for a share of 14th with Christopher de los Santos, Paul Echavez, Dante Becierra, Rene Menor and amateur Joseph Suarez in the tournament also 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.