BACOLOD – Frankie Miñoza proved he still has what it takes to contend, firing a seven-under 63 to force a three-way tie for the lead with an equally surging Miguel Tabuena and steady Guido Van der Valk in an action-packed third round of the ICTSI Negros Occidental Classic headed for a classic finish at the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club here Friday.
Miñoza, who missed the cut in his last Philippine Golf Tour stint at Eagle Ridge last month, flashed superb iron play and putting and hit eight birdies in benign conditions, including four straight from No. 4, as the veteran campaigner sizzled with a 30-33 to rally from way behind to gain a crack at the crown in a long while.
Van der Valk, out to redeem himself from a loss in a three-man playoff at Binitin last week won by Tony Lascuña, missed seizing the solo lead with a bogey on No. 15 but the veteran Dutch shotmaker still stayed on track for a breakthrough victory with a four-under 66.
Tabuena, back in the local hunt after a two-month stint abroad, negated a two-bogey mishap with seven birdies, including two late feats that netted him a 65 and a crack at the second crown after romping of the Anvaya Invitational crown last February.
With the three tied for the lead at 12-under 198, two laying just a stroke behind and another a shot farther back, the final round of the P1.5 million event sponsored by ICTSI headed for a classic, thrilling finish Saturday.
Joenard Rates, seeking to snap a four-year title spell, missed joining the leaders with a bogey on the par-5 18th but the diminutive shotmaker still got into the mix with a 64 for a 199 in a tie with American Micah Shin, the other playoff loser at Binitin also raring to score his maiden win on the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. Shin carded a 66.
Halfway leader Clyde Mondilla, whose back-to-back 65s sparked hopes for a third victory for the Del Monte star, found the going tougher Friday, fumbling with a double bogey and three bogeys in the first 10 holes to tumble down the leaderboard. He did come up with back-to-back birdies from No. 12 but flubbed a couple of birdie putts and limped with a 73 and slid to joint eighth at 203 with Arnold Villacencio, who also rallied with a 64.
Jay Bayron gunned down four birdies against two bogeys at the front but settled for pars at the back to turn in a two-under 68 but still remained in the hunt for the top P270,000 purse at 200, just two strokes adrift.
Orlan Sumcad made a 67 for solo seventh at 202.
Lascuña, fancied to annex a fourth straight crown after a thrilling win last weekend, continued to struggle while trying to battle the inroads of fatigue after playing for four straight weeks, carding a 68 for a 207 aggregate, nine shots off the joint leaders.
“I’m tired as I couldn’t hit the shots that I normally make,” said Lascuña, who rolled in a surprise 12-foot birdie putt off the fringe on the first playoff to snare the ICTSI Bacolod Golf Challenge over the weekend. “But this is going to be tight finish with so many players in contention.”
Truly, the final round is tipped to eclipse last week’s title duel in terms of action, thrill and drama with six players tightly bunched together in this 10th leg of this year’s circuit backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Summit Mineral Water, Srixon, Pacsports, TaylorMade, Sharp and Champion.
Miñoza, Van der Valk and Tabuena and the three others provided all those yesterday with Miñoza sustaining a bogey-free 65 Thursday with a five-under 30 at the front, highlighted by four straight birdies from No. 4. The former Asia’s No. 1 dropped a shot on No. 11 but resumed his birdie-hunt and gunned down three more in the last seven holes to rally from fourth-to-the-last flight to the championship group.
Van der Valk also strung up four straight birdies from No. 4 to negate a bogey on the par-5 second then added two more birdies on Nos. 10 and 12 before bogeying No. 15.
Tabuena, who bounced back from a so-so 69 start with a solid 64 to move within three strokes off Mondilla, kept attacking the greens and the pins and got rewarded by seven birdies although he made two bogeys on missed green mishaps.
“You can’t win championships if you won’t gamble,” said Tabuena, also hoping to nail the win to further boost his confidence going to next month’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Five players crowded after 11 holes with Rates and Shin joining Miñoza, Van der Valk and Tabuena at 10-under before the troika closed out with two more birdies to wrest control.