LIPA, Batangas – Robert Pactolerin mastered the last four holes of Mt. Lubo for the second straight day, even beating his four-birdie splurge the first time out with a closing eagle up to move up the crowded leaderboard with a 68 halfway through the P1.5 million ICTSI Classic at the Mt. Malarayat Golf and Country Club here Thursday.
Facing the specter of an over-par finish after back-to-back bogeys from No. 1 on his homeward trip, Pactolerin recalled the form he showed in stringing four straight birdies from No. 6 that spiked his opening 69 Wednesday, ramming in three straight then holing out with a five-foot eagle on the par-5 ninth off a solid rescue second shot from 210 yards for a 33-35 card.
“It just came together – driving, short game and putting,” said Pactolerin, now on track for a best finish after so-so stints in the first nine legs of this year’s ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour marred by four missed cuts.
“I always believe that if my irons and putting go together, I can still be able to contend against the young guns,” said the veteran shotmaker, a former Philippine Open champion and many-time Masters winner who last tasted victory in 2012 at home in Bacolod.
But at 137, Pactolerin, who bucked a second straight bogey on the par-3 11th with birdies on Nos. 15 and 17, also for the second straight day, believes he has to toughen up more and putt better as a potent mix of players are in hot pursuit of the lead and the top P270,000 purse heading to the last 36 holes of the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Joenard Rates matched Pactolerin’s eagle in another flight as the diminutive shotmaker, who humbled a stellar field to nail his maiden win at John Hay last year, carded a 70 to assume the challenger’s role at 138 along with two Koreans pressing their bid for a breakthrough win on the circuit sponsored by ICTSI.
Lee Seongki, who tied for fourth with a 68 in the opening round, birdied two of the last five holes to card a 70 while Woo Seong Bin birdied the last three holes at Mt. Lubo to fire a 68 and force a three-way tie for second.
Another shot farther back at 139 are five players, including first day leader Arnold Villacencio, who stumbled with a 73, Zanieboy Gialon, who shot a 70, Rolando Marabe, who made a 71, and fancied Tony Lascuña, who hit two birdies coming home at Mt. Lubo to shoot a 70 and stay in the hunt for a second straight crown after nipping Miguel Tabuena by one at ICTSI Apo three weeks ago.
“Just on target but it’s a crowded leaderboard, so tomorrow’s (today) round will be crucial,” said Lascuna, who couldn’t get his going at the tough Mt. Malipunhyo side of the composite layout where he settled for two birdies against the same number of bogeys.
Villacencio, who sizzled in a late flight to fire a 66 Wednesday, struggled in an early tee-off, bogeying No. 3 and dropping two strokes on the next. But he birdied two of the last 10 holes to stay in the title race.
Chris Mamaril also fumbled with a 73 after a 67 to drop to solo 10th at 140 while brothers Jay and Rufino Bayron fired a 70 and 72, respectively, to share 11th place with Artemio Murakami, who also matched par 72, at 141.
Juvic Pagunsan birdied the opening hole but groped for form the rest of the way, gunning down four birdies but fumbling with five bogeys to turn in an even 72 and a 143, six strokes off Pactolerin.
Michael Bibat and Albin Engino shot identical 70s to join Jhonnel Ababa, who faltered with a 75, Anthony Fernando, who wavered with a 73, Miguel Ochoa, who fired a 71, Elmer Salvador, who hobbled with a 73, and Korean Anthony Kim, who carded a 73, at 142.
Joining Pagunsan at 21st are Rico Depilo, who shot a 71, Benjie Magada, who matched par 72, and Japanese Yuta Sudo, who fired a 70.
Forty two made the cut at 147, including Thomas Kim, also of Korea, who had a a 72, Rene Menor, who made a 75, and John Rey Pactolerin, who limped with a 76, while Luisita leg winner Charles Hong missed the cut with a 150 after a 72.