TARLAC – Cebuano Charles Hong and Albin Engino took different routes but produced the same results – a pair of bogey-free 66s that put them in step with Clyde Mondilla and Keanu Jahns, one stroke ahead of Rolando Marabe, as the lesser lights upstaged the big guns at the start of the ICTSI Luisita Championship here Wednesday.
Seeking to atone for his missed cut stint at ICTSI Anvaya last week, Hong ripped Luisita’s frontside with four birdies, including three straight to make the turn then added two more from close range at the back while Engino, who tied for 27th at Anvaya, rammed in three birdies to launch his bid at the back then closed out with three more without dropping a shot as the par-72 tight layout virtually lay defenseless in the absence of the wind.
“The key was not to take risk with the driver. It is important to hit the fairways first because the chances to make birdies are greater and less risky,” said Hong, who won ICTSI Sherwood last year for his second career win.
Hong was a junior golf standout at Cebu Country Club and once held both the junior club and the club championships on the same year.
Thirty-one players broke par, majority had just one practice round and the pro-am tournament Tuesday to familiarize themselves with the hazard-laden course which is hosting a tournament of this magnitude for the first time in 26 years. But they proved up to the challenge with Frankie Miñoza, the last player to win here in the 1989 President’s Cup recalling his fierce form to shoot a four-under 68 and be among the early contenders for the top PP360,000 purse in this sixth leg of the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour.
Falling in the lower half of the 74-player starting field with two bogeys against a birdie at the back, Miñoza turned hot after birdying No. 1 as he came through with a pair of back-to-back birdies from Nos. 4 and 8 to turn in one of his most strongest starts in the circuit in a long while.
Among the four surprise leaders, the young Jahns actually stood out with a fiery start and a strong rebound from a double-bogey mishap on No. 3, drilling three straight birdies from No. 5 for a 34-32 card.
Mondilla, on the other hand, had a so-so start of one-birdie, one-bogey effort after four holes. But the former national champion caught fire with solid driving and iron play as he birdied the first three par-5s and added three more birdies to finish with two 33s.
Rolando Marabe, another obscure pro hoping to finally hit the paydirt this week, fumbled with two bogeys but also found the course to his liking, hitting seven birdies, including three straight from No. 12, to seize solo fifth.
“The course will reward you with a good score when you a hit a good shot. But it’s very important to play the course the conservative way,” said Mondilla, seeking a follow-up to his breakthrough win at ICTSI Canlubang last year.
John Rey Pactolerin and Orlan Sumcad also carded a pair of 68s while Jay Bayron, the former Order of Merit champion, blew a frontside start of 32 with two bogeys against a birdie at the back for a 69, emerging as the best among the early favorites in the 72-hole championship sponsored by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Joining Bayron, who also out to redeem himself after shooting himself in the foot with a final round 79 at Anvaya which he led after three rounds, at ninth are Ferdie Aunzo, Michael Bibat and Elmer Saban.
Young Miguel Tabuena, winner at ICTSI Splendido, likewise failed to sustain a solid 34 start, settling for a 70 to drop to the big group of two-under par scores, who included Elmer Salvador, another former OOM winner, Jhonnel Ababa, Dante Becierra, Paul Echavez, Randy Garalde, James Ryan Lam, Arnold Villacencio, Dino Villanueva and Dutch Guido Van der Valk.
Reigning three-time OOM champion Tony Lascuña, the top favorite here following a runner-up finish to absentee Angelo Que at Anvaya, looked headed for an explosive start with two birdies in the first four holes at the back. But the reigning three-time OOM champion struggled with his putting, missing makeable birdie chances and stumbled with two bogeys against a birdie in an eight-hole stretch linking both nines to drop to 71.
Other one-under par scorers were Marvin Dumandan, Anthony Fernando, Zanie Boy Gialon, Rene Menor, Mars Pucay, Gerald Rosales, Josehua Seale and Yuda Sudo.