DAVAO CITY – Frankie Miñoza rode on a fiery five-birdie spree linking both nines to shoot a six-under 66 and tie Jay Bayron at the helm as erstwhile joint leaders Ramil Bisera and Micah Shin reeled back with over-par scores midway through the ICTSI Apo Golf Invitational at the Apo Golf and Country Club here Thursday.
Back on the ICTSI tour after skipping last week’s leg at Palos Verdes, Miñoza wheeled back into title contention following a mediocre 72 start, recalling fierce form to turn in the best score in a day of floundering fortunes at the flat but challenging layout.
From joint 10th Wednesday, Miñoza got a shared view of the top with Bayron, who birdied two of the last four for a 70 and a 138, one ahead of longshot Nilo Salahog, who assumed the challenger’s role with a 70 for a 139 after practically all the others stumbled with so-so scores on the tough putting surface of Apo.
Tony Lascuña, whose opening 69 sparked hopes of a big weekend finish for the reigning but still winless Order of Merit champion, lost his momentum and struggled with a one-over 73 marred by a double bogey on No. 14. He fell four strokes behind at 142 in a tie with Shin, who also failed to sustain his solid 68 with a 74 ruined by three bogeys in the last six holes at the front.
ICTSI Palos Verdes winner Miguel Tabuena, tied with Lascuña at fourth at the start of the day, also wavered at the finish with bogeys on Nos. 6 and 7 and signed a 73 and remained in joint fourth with a surging Mhark Fernando, who shot a 69.
Elmer Salvador, who won at Riviera and placed second at Palos Verdes, rallied with two birdies in the last seven holes to fire a 69 and tie Jhonnel Ababa and Clyde Mondilla at even 144. Ababa rebounded with a 70 while Mondilla, who scored a breakthrough at Canlubang last year, matched par 72.
Thirty four others advanced to the last two rounds with Dante Beciera (79), Michael Bibat (79), Orlan Sumcad (74), Peter Villaber (73), John Kier Abdon (76), Japanese Yuta Sudo (76), Korean Thomas Kim (77), Solomon Gines (74) and Artemio Murakami (80) making the cut pegged at nine-over 153.
Cassius Casas, winner of two events last year, continued to struggle coming off a hand injury and missed the weekend play with a 155 after an 80, together with Tournament Players Championship champion Mars Pucay, who succumbed to Apo’s challenges and skied 79 for a 157.
Miñoza, who also co-led halfway through the ICTSI Riviera Classic but faded and ended up joint seventh, proved hungry coming off a tour break and a two-birdie, two-bogey stint in the first round.
After three pars, the veteran campaigner birdied the par-5 13th, closed out the backside with back-to-back birdies then rattled off three more from No. 1. Miñoza, who had a year-best joint fourth place effort at ICTSI Sherwood of the Asian Development Tour, stumbled with a bogey for the second straight day on the par-3 No. 4 but birdied the ninth to finish with a pair of 33s.
Bayron, who like Miñoza is seeking to snap a long title spell, settled for one birdie and one bogey and a run of pars in the first 14 holes but stayed at the helm by birdying Nos. 15 and 18, while Salahog fought back from a two-over card after 10 holes with four birdies in the last eight holes to save a 70 and gain a spot in today’s featured threesome.