June 19, 2018, 4:28 pm
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Crowded leaderboard as Masters kicks off

JERSON Balasabas finished the round the way he started it for a 67 that dropped him into a four-way tie for the lead with Orlan Sumcad, Jobim Carlos and Joenard Rates at the start of the rich ICTSI Villamor Philippine Masters at the Villamor Golf Club yesterday.

After a three-putt bogey on No. 2 Balasabas, who placed eighth here last year, quickly launched a fiery attack that saw him rattling off seven birdies in the next 13 holes before being denied of the solo lead with a late-hole miscue after an errant drive.

He has to content himself with inclusion among a crowded leaderboard that has the power-hitting Sumcad, the young Carlos and the diminutive Rates as co-members.

Unheralded Albin Engino carded a 68 for solo fifth, multi-titled Jay Bayron stood a shot farther back at 69 and veterans Rey Pagunsan, Mars Pucay and Gerald Rosales also shot 70s for joint seventh in the early going of the P3 million event sponsored by ICTSI.

“I really practiced a lot for this Masters and in preparation for the PGT Asia,” said Balasabas while putting premium on driving and putting in tackling a tight, tree-lined course as Villamor.

“You have to have a solid drive here and be able to make the putts,” added Balasabas, who hit 10 fairways and missed just three greens.

While Balasabas, Sumcad, Carlos and Rates sizzled, early local favorites Clyde Mondilla, Tony Lascuña, and The Country Club Invitational champion Micah Shin of the US failed to break par.

Lascuña, a many-time PGT Order of Merit winner who posted three victories last year, failed to match Carlos’ superb start in one of the featured flights with a wobbly finish of two bogeys in the last four holes. He ended up with a 73 for joint 20th.

Mondilla, whose come-from-behind one-stroke victory over Lascuña, Jhonnel Ababa and American Nicholas Paez here last year anchored his Order of Merit romp, continued to grope for form coming off a slump in the early goings of the season, fumbling with five bogeys against a birdie after 14 holes and out of early contention in the 72-hole championship backed by BDO, KZG, Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Sharp, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and PLDT.

He recovered a bit with an eagle at the par-5 18th, moving him to a share of 25th with 10 others at 74 but seven strokes behind the leaders.

Shin, who humbled the cream of the local pro crop and a host of foreign aces in the TCC Invitational last February, also struggled all day with three bogeys against a final hole birdie to join Mondilla in the big two-over par group.

With Carlos and Rates safely on top with those two early 67s, Sumcad took advantage of his length off the tee, spiking his 31 start with an eagle on the par-5 No. 4 then went without a par in the next six holes that featured five birdies and a bogey. But he lost his rhythm at the back the tougher backside of the military layout, settling for pars and dropping another stroke on No. 15.

Carlos and Rates started out at opposite nines in morning play but produced the same results ­– a pair of five-under 67s that put them on top until Sumcad came on board and Balasabas stormed past a host of rivals before slowing down in the end.

Sustaining the form that netted him his first pro crown but in a team-up with DJ Padilla in the National Pro-am at Splendido two weeks ago, Carlos went on a birdie at the front, coming through with five then added another on the short par-4 No. 10 to go six-under.

But he settled for pars in the next four holes and dropped a stroke on the par-4 15th as the former national champion, who placed tied for fifth last year, a 31-36 round.

Rates also waxed hot early at the back, opening with a birdie-eagle feat although he failed to come up with a follow-up until he made the turn and birdied Nos. 1 and 4 and completed a bogey-free 34-33 card.

“I went for the green at every chance and made some putts,” said the diminutive Rates. “But I’ll be careful tomorrow (today).”

Like Balasabas, Engino made one bogey in his opening backside stint but birdied the first four holes at the front then added another on the eighth to seize fifth spot while Bayron, also out to break a long spell, survived a roller-coaster three-birdie, three-bogey stint at the front with three birdies in the last nine holes.
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