TAGAYTAY – Elmer Salvador put on a brilliant show of shot-making and putting on a hot, humid day and came away with a record-setting seven-under 65 to seize a three-stroke lead over Frankie Miñoza and Tony Lascuña at the start of the P1.5 million-ICTSI Splendido Classic at Splendido Taal Golf Club here Wednesday.
Salvador, coming off a struggling stint in last week’s Solaire Open at The Country Club where he wound up joint 21st, flashed top form this time, going almost flawless with eight birdies after 17 holes in morning play, highlighted by a stirring four-birdie string from No. 13.
But the back-to-back Aboitiz Invitational champion and former Order of Merit winner stumbled with a bogey on the par-5 18th, settling for a 33-32 and a big three-shot cushion over two of the fancied players in the kickoff leg of this year’s ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour.
“Sinwerte lang. Maganda ang umpisa at nagtuloy sa backnine,” said Salvador of his round that featured birdies from close range on Nos. 1, 8, 9 and 11 before blazing home with four straight from No. 13.
He, however, drove into the fairway bunker on the closing hole and needed three more shots to reach the green before two-putting for the lone black mark in an otherwise impressive card that bettered the previous best of 66 set by Miguel Tabuena in 2012.
Miñoza, out to duplicate his three-win romp last year at this stage of his career, matched Salvador’s 32 with four birdies in the first five holes at the back where he started and rammed in another birdie on No. 4 only to yield it back with a missed green bogey on the eighth. He signed for a 68 for second.
Lascuña, also out to atone for a forgettable stint at Solaire Open where he ended up at 31st, set his title bid in motion with a pair of 34s, including two birdies in the last four holes, putting him alongside Minoza in the 72-hole championship sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc. and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Clyde Mondilla, enjoying top form after finishing tied for seventh at Solaire Open, made a 35 at the back then eagled the par-5 No. 2 and birdied No. 6 but bogeyed the last three holes to drop to 71 in one of the late flights.
But only nine other players out of the starting field of 98 managed to turn in under-par scores as the dreaded Tagaytay wind kicked late in the day with Michael Bibat and Erwin Vinluan sharing fourth with 69s, Rufino Bayron and Charles Hong firing a 70 each, and Paul Echavez, Marvin Dumandan, Rene Menor, pro-am winner Carl Santos-Ocampo and qualifiers American Tony Guerrero and Swede Malcolm Kokocinski carding identical 71s.
Tabuena, who finished tied with Mondilla at Solaire Open, failed to get going in a late start and settled for a two-birdie, two-bogey stint for a 72 in a tie with Robert Pactolerin and Ferdie Aunzo in the event backed by Nike Golf, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Cleveland, Pacsports, Srixon, Callaway, Sharp and FootJoy with Balls TV and ABS-CBN Sports+Action as media partners.
The rest groped for form with Jun Rates and Jan Tambogon carding 73s, Rolando Marabe, Zanie Boy Gialon, Japanese Tomo Yoshinaga, Dante Becierra and Korean qualifier Kim Chang Hoi turning in 74s.
Elmer Saban, who nipped Cassius Casas by one to nail his first pro win here last year, blew a fine start of 35 at the back with a horrible front side finish of 40, dropping to 18th place at 75 with veteran Asian Tour campaigner Mars Pucay, former Philippine Open champion Gerald Rosales, Jun Bernis, Danny Zarate, Richard Sinfuego, Rey Pagunsan and qualifiers Eric Mina of the US and Park Jun Song of Korea.