Blazing finish nets Villacencio one-shot lead



LIPA, Batangas – Arnold Villacencio flashed his local knowledge of Mt. Malarayat’s composite courses, blazing home with four birdies and coming away with a six-under 66 for a one-stroke lead over title-hungry Jhonnel Ababa and unheralded Chris Mamaril at the start of the ICTSI Classic Wednesday.

Villacencio, seeking a follow-up to his playoff breakthrough victory over Miguel Tabuena at ICTSI Summit Point last year, came through with a strong start at Mt. Malipunyo, bucked a lost-ball mishap on the par-5 14th with a birdie on the 18th then rattled off a bogey-free 32 at the Mt. Lubo side that shoved him past a mix of 25 others who turned in under-par scores in mild breeze here.

Arnold Villacencio studies the line of his putt on No. 5.
Arnold Villacencio studies the line of his putt on No. 5.

“Sinuwerte lang (Just got lucky),” said Villacencio, who had struggled in the first nine legs of this year’s ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour marred by three missed-cut stints and a best tied for 11th finish at Manila Masters.

He ended up 22nd at ICTSI Palos Verdes then skidded to joint 29th in the ICTSI Apo leg of the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. three weeks ago.

But playing on a course he calls home, Villacencio seized the moment, using a near-impeccable iron game to set up birdies from close range in the early going and in the last nine holes he capped with a curling 10-footer on the par-5 No. 9 for the lead.

Ababa, out to end a long title spell on the tour sponsored by ICTSI, actually matched Villacencio’s two-birdie start and a closing 32 but fumbled with two bogeys against one more birdie for a 67 that tied him with Mamaril, who birdied the last three holes at Mt. Lubo to post a career-best start.

Koreans Lee Seongki and Anthony Kim likewise churned out a pair of four-under 68s to share fourth place with former leg winner Joenard Rates and another unfancied bet in Rolando Marabe while the big guns, led by Tony Lascuña and Elmer Salvador, stayed within striking distance with 69s.

Other three-under scorers were last year’s Asian Development Tour leg winner at Ochard Rufino Bayron, Anthony Fernando, Artemio Murakami and veteran Robert Pactolerin.

Juvic Pagunsan, who created quite a stir when he signed up for the first time since 2013, hardly shook off a bogey-bogey start at Malipunyo and a double-bogey on No. 1 at Lubo with five birdies, including two in the last five to salvage a 71 and a share of 19th with seven others.

Juvic Pagunsan checks out his yardage from the rough on No. 17.
Juvic Pagunsan checks out his yardage from the rough on No. 17.

“My irons just clicked and I was able to convert birdies from short distance,” said Villacencio, who went to work early with birdies on Nos. 11 and 12, reeled back when he hit an errant second shot on No. 14 but recovered the stroke with a six-footer for birdie on the 18th.

He sustained his form at Mt. Lubo, gunning down another birdie on No. 1 then rolling in a four-footer on No. 3. He flubbed a seven-footer on the fourth but rammed in a five-footer on No. 7 before closing out with his seventh birdie on the ninth.

Ababa birdied Nos. 10 and 12 to kick off his bid, sandwiched another birdie on the 17th with bogeys on Nos. 15 and 18 but charged back at Mt. Lubo with four birdies, including three-straight from No. 3 to card a 32 and a 67.

Mamaril also shot down four birdies against two bogeys at the back then surprised the field with a scorching finish – three straight birdies that spiked his 33-34 card.

Jobim Carlos, still opting to play as an amateur despite topping the Q-School early in the year, closed out the Lubo nine with four straight birdies but bogeyed two of the last five to settle for a 70 in a tie with Rey Pagunsan, Edward Reyes and Korean Woo Seong Bin.

Matching Pagunsan’s 71 were flightmate Mars Pucay, Jay Bayron, Benjie Magada, Miko Alejandro, John Rey Pactolerin, Miguel Ochoa and Efren Robles Jr. while Cassius Casas and Michael Bibat matched par 72s for joint 27th with Rico Depilo, Randy Garalde, Ian Mathay, Rene Menor and Orlan Sumcad.

Other backers of the event are Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Callaway, Srixon, Mizuno, TaylorMade, Nike Golf, Sharp, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Rudy Project, Pacsports, Omnisource, Cleveland Golf, KZG, FootJoy, Silicon, Empire and Great Depot.

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