ILOILO – Elmer Salvador bucked the rain, wind and soggy fairways with a superb short game and steady putting as he shot a three-under 67 to grab a one-stroke lead over Jun Bernis and Richard Abaring at the start of the P1 million ICTSI Iloilo Golf Challenge in Sta. Barbara here Wednesday.
Salvador came through with a near-impeccable iron play that produced five birdies inside five feet then closed out with five straight pars in demanding condition to preserve a 34-33 card at the quaint Iloilo Golf and Country Club that barely escaped the wrath of Typhoon Glenda.
“It’s tough to play in driving rains and wind and it’s hard to build a stance because there were patches of water all around,” said Salvador, who nevertheless produced the best round marred by two missed green bogeys on Nos. 3 and 11.
Bernis also saved a good start of 34 with a scrambling 36 as the former national champion still in search of a breakthrough win on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour tied the unheralded Abaring at second with Davaoenos Jay Bayron, Cassius Casas and Ferdie Aunzo and local bet Paul Vesinica lurking a stroke farther back at 69.
“We had to rush our shots since it was raining hard and missed some birdie opportunities,” said Aunzo, also seeking to end a long title spell in the circuit sponsored by International Container Terminals Services, Inc.
Michael Bibat, chasing a second crown in two years, and long-hitting Orlan Sumcad turned in identical even par 70s while fancied Tony Lascuna hardly recovered from a shaky backside start and hobbled with a 71 in a tie with six others.
Angelo Que, still winless halfway through the 16-stage circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. rallied with two birdies to save a two-over 72 but fell to joint 16th with six others, five strokes off Salvador.
“I woke up with a bum stomach and could not really get myself going with an uneasy feeling,” rued Que, who actually fought back from a 40 start with two birdies at the back. “It’s a good thing that I was able to save a two-over card. But I will try to rebound tomorrow (Thursday).”
Salvador also hopes to sustain his fine start with the weather expected to improve as the ICTSI Riviera Classic winner steps up his bid for a second leg win this year and gain the momentum for next month’s Aboitiz Invitational where he is the back-to-back defending champion.
“It’s too close (lead) and I need to score another low round to firm up my lead,” said Salvador, who birdied Nos. 1, 4 and 9 from close range to negate a bogey on the third. He dropped a shot on the 11th but birdied the next from five feet then rolled in an eight-footer for another birdie on the 13th.
Bernis hit an errant drive on the opening hole and made a bogey but struck back with three birdies in a four-hole stretch from No. 5 to put himself in early contention in the event backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports, Srixon, FootJoy, It’s More Fun in the Philippines, Callaway, Mizuno, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Sharp and KZG.
Abaring, meanwhile, charged back at the front with three birdies in the last six holes to tie Bernis at 68 while Aunzo nearly blew a solid three-under start after seven holes with three bogeys against a birdie at the back for a 69, the same output put in by Vesinica, who rebounded with four birdies in the last 11 holes on a course he calls home.
Bayron actually bettered flightmate Salvador’s 34 start with a 33 but the ICTSI Splendido leg winner wavered at the back with three bogeys against a lone birdie for a 69 while Casas, looking for his first win since ruling the last leg at Wack Wack last year and clinching a second The Country Club Invitational crown last February, fought back with two birdies in the last five holes to force a four-way tie for fourth.