CANLUBANG – Jessie Balasabas, cashing in on his familiarity with Cangolf’s North layout, romped off with a bogey-free six-under 66 to wrest a one-stroke lead over Zanie Boy Gialon as the club bets flourished on their turf to dominate the first round of the P1.5 million ICTSI Canlubang Golf Invitational here Tuesday.
Balasabas flashed his local knowledge of the Robert Trent Jones-designed course – off the mound all the way to the putting green – where he, along with Gialon and a slew of others, have trained during their amateur days, giving them some edge in the fight for the top P270,000 purse over the rest of the 72-player field.
He rammed in four birdies at the front then birdied the two par-5s at the back to complete a 32-34 card in a big start for the former national team mainstay still in search of a breakthrough win on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour.
“I’m hitting it well. Good driving and putting,” said Balasabas, who drilled in birdies from as close as two feet and as far as 18 feet. “I just hope to sustain it till Friday to finally get a crack at the crown.”
Gialon, seeking a follow-up to his victory at ICTSI Royal Northwoods last September, hit one more birdie than Balasabas, who placed third in this event last year ruled by Cassius Casas via a two-hole playoff over Clyde Mondilla. But he fumbled with bogeys on two par-3s and settled for a 67 while Casas and Dante Becierra sizzled coming home at the front to fire identical 68s.
“My driving and putting just clicked,” said Gialon, who used just 26 putts to string nines of 32-35.
Casas, who also had a storied career at Cangolf, eagled the par-5 14th then birdied two of the last four holes to turn in a 35-33. The defending champion and winner of the ICTSI Iloilo leg opened with a birdie on No. 10, dropped a stroke on the 12th, recovered the shot on No. 17 but fumbled with another missed-green bogey on the first hole before birdying Nos. 6 and 9.
Becierra, who also honed his talent and skills here, charged back with a birdie-birdie-birdie finish to tie Casas and likewise fuel his drive for a first-ever pro crown in the circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc. and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
A host of others, mostly former members of the Cangolf squad, stood just a stroke or two behind, guaranteeing a spirited chase for top honors in the event serving as the penultimate leg of the 16-stage circuit backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports Phils. Inc., Srixon, Callaway, Mizuno, Empire Golf, Footjoy, Titleist, Custom Clubmakers, Sharp, KZG and Rudy Project.
Mhark Fernando, one of the best players to have come out of the Canlubang golf program, matched Becierra’s fiery finish to shoot a 69 for solo fifth, while Jhonnel Ababa, another club bet, carded a bogey-free 70 to lead the two-under par scorers who include Marvin Dumandan, Jong Laput, Lawrence Celestino, Charles Hong, Artemio Murakami, Keanu Jahns, Mondilla and Japanese amateur Yuto Katsuragawa.
Arnold Villacencio, who came into the event oozing with confidence following a breakthrough win at ICTSI Summit Classic two weeks ago, found the tough layout not to his liking, fumbling with two bogeys at the back and dropped four straight strokes from No. 4 against two birdies for a four-over 76. He fell to joint 51st and in danger of missing the cut.
Art Arbole and Albin Engino shot identical 71s as 16 players broke par with nine others matching par, including Michael Bibat, John Kier Abdon, Benjie Magada, Elliot Hume, Norman dela Pena, Edward Reyes, Jun Bernis, Richard Sinfuego and Robert Pactolerin.