THAILAND’S Namchok Tantipokhakul fired a five-under 67 to take the lead as the first round of the ICTSI Luisita Championship was stopped due to darkness following a two-hour delay due to heavy rains and threats of lightning on Monday in Tarlac.
Former Singapore amateur titlist Choo Tze Huang was bogey-free at five-under with three holes to play.
Enrico Gallardo got to four under through 10 holes then settled for pars the rest of the way.
Korea’s Kim Dae Won was also at four-under, while Keanu Jahns was three-under after 15 holes.
Australia’s Fidel Concepcion, Sweden’s Sebastian Hansson and Central Azucarera de Tarlac Open champion James Ryan Lam and Mars Pucay were two-under through 15 holes.
Tantipokhakul, joint sixth in the Solaire Philippine Open two weeks ago, flashed superb touch off the mound then bucked the softened fairways with a near-impeccable iron game to produce six birdies against a lone bogey for nines of 33-34 on preferred lies.
“I played solid and putted very well,” said Tantipokhakul, who missed just three fairways and two greens. “Not bothered by wet conditions. It’s actually good for long hitters like me.”
Tantipokhakul gunned down birdies on Nos. 3, 5 and 9 to outclass defending champion David Gleeson of Australia and local ace Juvic Pagunsan in one of the featured flights in the $100,000 event (around P5.1 million) put up by ICTSI.
The 34-year-old power hitter from Chonburi birdied No. 12 then bounced back from a missed green bogey on the 14th with birdies on Nos. 16 and the difficult par-3 17th inside 10 feet.
Gleeson, who nipped Erwin Arcillas on the third playoff hole to nail his breakthrough win last year, hit three birdies but fumbled with the same number of bogeys while Pagunsan, seeking to bounce back after missing the cut stint in the Philippine Open, recovered from a double-bogey misadventure on No. 7 with birdies on the next and on No. 16 as the duo joined a big bunch of even par scorers but five shots off Tantipokhakul.
Jay Bayron checked a rollercoaster two birdie-two bogey game with three straight birdies from No. 13 but missed moving closer to or catching up with Tantipokhakul with flubbed birdies in the last three holes. He turned in a 36-33, the same nines put in by American Lexus Keoninh while Natthapong Niyomchon blew a solid backside 31 with two bogeys at the front to drop to Bayron’s group.
Finland’s Teemu Putkonen hit three birdies in the first six holes at the back but bogeyed the last to slip to joint fifth at 70 with Thai Kammalas Namuangruk and locals Elmer Salvador and Kuresh Samanodi while Thais Pasavee Lertvilai, Tawit Polthai and veteran Wisut Artjanawat and Gerald Rosales churned out identical 71s to boost their respective bids at the tight, hazard laden Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed layout.
Rosales, winner of a Philippine Open in an all-local field, showed flashes of brilliance with two birdies at the front but after a run of pars, the former amateur hotshot wavered at the finish, closing out with a bogey-birdie-bogey-bogey-birdie for a 37.
Some of the local favorites, however, fell way behind with fat scores and in danger of missing the top 50 plus ties cut in this kickoff leg of the third season of the region’s newest circuit backed by PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High.
They include reigning PGT Order of Merit champion Jobim Carlos, who skied to an 82 marred by a triple bogey and two doubles bogeys while trying to buck a hand injury that forced him to withdraw from the Philippine Open after 18 holes.