June 23, 2018, 2:29 am
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Clutch birdie propels Tabuena to 1-stroke lead

STA. ROSA, Laguna. — Miguel Tabuena birdied the tricky par-3 No. 17 from 20 feet for a crucial two-shot swing that pulled him from one-down to one-up over erstwhile leader Guido Van der Valk Thursday halfway through the rich The Country Club Invitational at the TCC here.

Tabuena overcame an early struggle off the mound in the first flight with Frankie Miñoza and worked his way up from three down with three birdies against two bogeys after 16 holes before rolling in that monster putt for birdie on the 17th to finish with a two-under 70 and a two-day total of 141.

Five flights behind, Van der Valk held sway despite a 38 start as he birdied two of the first three holes at the back and kept a one-stroke lead despite another bogey on No. 13. But he pulled his tee-shot to the left of the 161-yard No. 17 and flubbed a 15-foot par save bid, enabling Tabuena to seize control going into the last 36 holes of the P5 million event sponsored by ICTSI president and chairman Ricky Razon.

After a superb opening 68, Van der Valk stumbled with a 74, his second round bid marred by poor putting. He pooled 142 but fell by one behind the defending champion, who emerged the lone player to submit back-to-back under par rounds on a course that continued to bedevil the games of the rest of the elite 30-player field with its sheer length (7,300 yards) and dreaded winds.

Wary of his wobbly driving in the early going, Tabuena headed straight to the range for a quick swing check with coach J3 Altea.

“Though I played pretty well, I feel there’s a need to fix something. I missed some fairways and it can’t be that way, especially when the strong winds come in,” said Tabuena, who moved closer to scoring a repeat after nipping three-time winner Juvic Pagunsan by one last year.

Van der Valk needed to polish his stroke after making three-putt bogeys on Nos. 2 and 5. He also flubbed a 10-footer for birdie on the last hole and missed joining Tabuena at the helm.

“I didn’t get the right speed,” rued the 38-year-old Manila-based Dutchman. “I need to have a lot of good putts in the last two days to have a chance at the title.”

So do the rest of the field.

Keanu Jahns, who shot one of the only three under-par cards with a 70 Wednesday, dropped two strokes on No. 17 and hobbled with a 77, slipping to fourth at 147 with young American Micah Shin wresting solo third at 145 after a 73.

The rest dropped farther back with over-par cards in exacting condition with 2004 champion Tony Lascuña limping with a 76 for fifth at 149, Elmer Salvador also groping for a four-over card for sixth at 151 and Jhonnel Ababa, who scored back-to-back victories on the PGT Asia last month, wavering with a 79 for joint seventh at 152 with Jerson Balasabas and Charles Hong, who carded identical 75s.

Miñoza actually recovered with a 74 after a 79 but his 153 dropped him 12 strokes off Tabuena with Jay Bayron and Zanieboy Gialon, turned in 74 and 76, respectively, with American Nicolas Paez at 154 after a second straight 77 and Japanese Toru Nakajima at 155 after a 75.

Angelo Que, who has won this event three times, failed to recover from an opening 75 with a horrible 81 for a 12-over 156, 15 strokes behind Tabuena.

A double-bogey mishap on the opening hole somehow hinted at the coming of a bleak day for the long-hitting Que, who bogeyed the next two and made two more double bogeys and a bogey against two birdies in a horrendous 43 start.

He birdied the par-5 10th but stumbled with four bogeys against one birdie in the last seven holes for a 38 and that nine-over card for joint 15th with Clyde Mondilla, who hobbled with another 78, Orlan Sumcad, who skied to a 79, and Rufino Bayron and Jobim Carlos, who both shot 76s.
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