STA. ROSA, Laguna – Thai Tawit Polthai tamed the dreaded The Country Club course with an eagle-spiked 67 to take a four-shot lead over Clyde Mondilla and two others at the start of the 101st Solaire Philippine Open on Wednesday.
Polthai overcame severe conditions in afternoon play with a near-impeccable short game and solid putting, producing three birdies inside 15 feet and a 10-foot eagle on the par-5 eighth off a 6-iron second shot from 183 yards.
More importantly, Polthai came out of the hazard-riddled course without a single bogey for a 32-35 card in a big surge for a player who struggled to finish joint 37th in last week’s ICTSI Riviera Challenge.
While majority struggled in scorching heat at the wind-raked Tom Weiskoph-designed layout he had never played before, Polthai made it look easy – at least after the first 18 holes of the $500,000 event sponsored by Solaire Resort & Casino for the third straight year.
“It’s a very tough, windy course. I’m really surprised to have shot a 67,” said the 25-year-old Polthai from Bangkok.
Mondilla, out to atone for his missed cut at Riviera, birdied two of the four par-5s and the par-3 third hole to negate his bogeys on Nos. 6 and 9 then parred the last eight holes to join Aussie Jack Sullivan and another Thai, Charng-Tai Sudsomo, at second with 71s.
“My irons, short game and putting finally clicked,” said Mondilla, who picked up the cudgels for the locals after the fancied Juvic Pagunsan and former champion Angelo Que succumbed to tough conditions and hobbled with identical 77s for joint 40th with Tony Lascuña and Thais Chawalit Plaphol and Poosit Supupramai in the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Sudsom actually had a two-under card heading to the par-4 18th but holed out with a bogey, enabling Polthai to open with a huge cushion over the field.
Nicholas Fung missed joining Mondilla and Sullivan with a bogey on No. 18 as the Malaysian ace dropped to a share of fifth at 72 with Thai Chonlatit Chuenboonngam, Sam Gillis of the US, Aussie Damien Jordan and locals Justin Quiban and Cookie La’O.
Pagunsan, Que and three-time PGT Order of Merit winner Lascuña all floundered with five-over cards in a tie with Thai Atiruj Winaicharoenchai, England’s George Twyman, and compatriots Erwin Arcillas and Paul Echavez.
“My putting was off and made just one birdie,” rued Pagunsan, who is coming off a seven-shot victory at Riviera last week but made three straight bogeys from No. 5 and dropped three more strokes at the back against a birdie on No. 17.
Que, a three-time champion of the TCC Invitational, bogeyed the first two holes and finished no better with four more bogeys and a double-bogey against three birdies for a 40-37 while Lascuña blew a decent 36 start with closing 41 marred by a double-bogey on No. 10 and a triple-bogey on No. 18.