DAVAO – Michael Bibat relived his fling with the Rancho Palos Verdes layout where he recorded his maiden victory two years ago, firing a bogey-free eight-under 64 to show up the stellar field, including the favored local aces, at the start of the P1.5 million ICTSI Rancho Palos Verdes Classic here Wednesday.
Bibat, long in search of the form that netted him a two-stroke victory over Tony Lascuña and Elmer Salvador when the tour last made a stop here in 2013, finally regained his touch, rhythm and confidence to turn in a career-best round capped by three straight birdies that closed out 31-33 card at the front.
“I didn’t expect to shoot this low but I really liked the course and it also helped that I won here two years ago. I sort of recalled my best shots on some holes,” said Bibat, who preserved his bogey-free round with a 20-foot putt on the par-3 No. 3 where he dumped his tee-shot into the greenside bunker.
But despite his brilliant start, Bibat could only post a one-stroke lead over homegrown bet Ferdie Aunzo, another player hungry for title who also posted a flawless round of 65 spiked by four straight birdies from No. 12.
Davao-based American Micah Shin and Miguel Tabuena also turned in a pair of solid 66s with the former finishing with an eagle-spiked 34-32 and the latter gunning down four birdies at the front en route to a 32-34 card as the par-72 layout, softened up by rain the past few days, took a severe beating under preferred lie rules.
Clyde Mondilla bucked a so-so backside start and fired three birdies at the front to tie Jhonnel Ababa, Zanieboy Gialon, Orlan Sumcad and Korean Anthony Kim at fourth with 69s, matched later by last week’s ICTSI Riviera Classic winner Salvador, who birdied Nos. 14 and 15 to join the fifth group.
Lascuña failed to sustain a two-birdie start at the front with a closing 36 and settled for a 70 in a tie with Nilo Salahog, Miko Alejandro, Mhark Fernando and Randy Garalde while ICTSI Tournament Players Championship winner Mars Pucay birdied two of the last four holes to salvage a 71 for joint 15th Keanu Jahns, Rene Menor and Koreans Park Gyuha and Park Jun Song.
Six others matched par, including Jay Bayron, Tonton Asistio, Paul Echavez, Anthony Fernando, Reymon Jaraula and Japanese Yuta Sudo as the field braced for a low-scoring week in the eighth leg of the circuit sponsored by ICTSI and organized by the Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Bibat, who only had one top 10 finish – at ICTSI Anvaya Cove Invitational last May – and had one missed cut after seven legs, set the tone for a low scoring day at the back where he gunned down three birdies from a combination of long and short putts while saving pars twice. Sustaining his form, he birdied Nos. 1 and 5 then rattled off three straight birdies, including a 30-footer on the ninth, to complete that 64.
It was, however, not a one-way traffic for the fancied men on the tour.
Cassius Casas, winner of two events last year, including The Country Club Invitational, struggled with a 73 together with ICTSI Luisita leg winner Charles Hong, Robert Pactolerin, Solomon Gines, Nelson Huerva, Rolando Marabe and Koreans Thomas Kim and Lee Hyun Woo.
Last year’s leg winners Rufino Bayron (ICTSI Orchard Championship) and Arnold Villacencio (ICTSI Summit Point), meanwhile, faced the specter of missing the 40-plus cut with 77 and 78, respectively.