LEFT-handed Andres Saldaña gunned down five birdies for a four-under-par 68 and a four-shot lead in the first round of the 19th W Express-DHL RVF Amateur golf championship presented by the MVP Sports Foundation on Tuesday at Canlubang Golf and Country Club in Laguna.
The pro-bound mainstay of the Alabang squad in the Interclub tournament turned in his best score in months, with his only bogey coming on the par-4 16th hole of the tree-lined North course.
Saldaña opened up a four-shot lead over former national champion Rupert Zaragosa, John Kier Abdon, reigning world 13-14 age-group champion Kristoffer Arevalo and Del Monte’s Mel Cubillo, who all fired 72s in the opening round of the event that is part of the PLDT Group Amateur Tour.
Zaragosa, runner-up to Fil-German Keanu Jahns last year, was three over on the front but came up with some brilliant play on the back nine to stay within striking distance of the leader.
“I suffered some bad breaks out there today,” said Zaragosa. “There’s still a lot of golf left. But that 68 (by Saldaña) was something special considering the pin placements today.”
Abdon opened up birdie-birdie-bogey-birdie but couldn’t sustain the charge, limping off with a double bogey 7 on the picturesque ninth to find himself in that star-studded group tied for second.
Cubillo, who like the other members of the rock-solid Del Monte squad is gearing up for the Interclub in Bacolod next week, was steady in carving out nines of 36-36.
Korean expat Jung Tae-yang, Magno Arancon and Raymart Tolentino fired 74s.
Gen Nagai, the Japanese national who will try to help Cebu Country Club win the Interclub for the third straight year at the Marapara and Binitin layouts starting Wednesday, fired a 75 in the tournament backed by Pancake House, Golf Depot and Pacsports.
Justin Quiban, the newest Philippine Team member, struggled to a 77 marred by a triple-bogey 7 on No. 4 and a double-bogey 6 on the seventh.
He was tied with four others, including Alabang teammate Gabriel Manotoc, who needed 40 putts for the day, and Del Monte’s Leonard Lofranco.