BAGUIO – Jun Rates sneaked through a pack of big guns with a big game belying his small frame, shooting an eight-under 60 to grab a one-stroke lead over erstwhile leader Frankie Miñoza and titleholder Jay Bayron halfway through the P2 million ICTSI Camp John Hay Championship here Thursday.
Rates, who finished No. 19 in last year’s ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit ranking, banked on what he described as two “lucky” shots from under the trees to complete a brilliant 32-28 card at the John Hay layout, capped by birdies in the last three holes that shoved him past Miñoza and Bayron with an 11-under 125.
“I was just lucky to shoot a 60. I hit a tree off the tee on No. 6 (par-3) but the ball landed onto the green and I made the putt. I also drove into the trees on No. 17 (par-5) and punched out, then hit a rescue shot from 220 yards to within 12 feet for another birdie. May halong swerte din talaga,” said the 5-3 Rates, who muffed an eagle putt from 10 feet on No. 1 but went to fire eight more birdies against a missed-green bogey on No. 5.
“I’m happy with my game, making the putts to complement my short game. In this short but tight course, it’s a matter of putting your ball in the right position,” added Rates, out to improve his career-best finish of third, also in this leg of the circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc. in 2012.
But it will also be a question of poise as the diminutive shot-maker from Lipa, Batangas tries to prove his mettle against Miñoza and Bayron in today’s crucial third round after the fancied pair pooled identical 126s after a 65 and 63, respectively.
Miñoza, who showed up the elite field with a 61 in the first round, eagled the par-5 No. 1 but had a couple of errant shots and a number of flubbed birdie putts to settle for a 65 while Bayron matched his closing 29 in the first round to shoot a second straight 63.
“I had some mishit and missed birdie putts,” said Miñoza, who birdied No. 8, bogeyed the par-3 11th for the second straight day and birdied the 17th again. “I will just try to strike back tomorrow (Friday).”
Bayron, who battled back from five shots down with a 59 then nipped Miguel Tabuena in sudden death to snatch the crown last year, also braced for a shootout with Miñoza and Rates while stressing the need to polish his putting stroke to stay in the hunt for a second straight title.
“I had another good round and bucked some tough pin placements with crucial putts. It will all boil down to putting in the end,” said Bayron, also seeking a second straight leg victory after coming from behind to beat brother Rufino in last week’s ICTSI Splendido Classic, which kicked off the 16-stage circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Four behind Miñoza, Rates fell farther back despite a birdie on the opening hole but closed in with back-to-back birdies to close out the front side. He birdied No. 10 from seven feet, tapped in for birdies on Nos. 14 and 16 and closed out again with birdies from 13 feet in the last two holes.
Reigning back-to-back Order of Merit winner Tony Lascuna likewise moved into contention with a bogey-free 64 although he stood four strokes behind Rates at 129 while Anthony Fernando bogeyed the 17th and dropped to joint fifth with Jhonnel Ababa, Angelo Que, Elmer Salvador and Canadian Rick Gibson at 130.
Ababa birdied the first two holes but bogeyed two of the first three holes at the back, needing to birdie Nos. 14, 16 and 17 to negate a last-hole bogey for a 66 while Que bounced back from a so-so 67 in the first round with a 63, spiked by a five-birdie splurge at the front.
Salvador hit just four birdies against two bogeys for a 66 marred by a couple of missed birdies from close range at the back while Gibson, the low medalist in the recent foreign PGT Q-School, failed to sustain a two-birdie feat at the front with a bogey in a birdie-less backside stint for a 67.
Tabuena also rebounded with a four-under-par 64 for a 131 in a tie with Swede Malcolm Kokocinski (68), Carl Santos-Ocampo (65), Orlan Sumcad (62), Richard Abaring (67) and Cassius Casas (65).
Forty three players made the cut at 138 with Rey Pagunsan firing a 67 to tie Arnold Villacencio (68), Danny Zarate (69), Albin Engino (70), Jomar Pepito (68), Rico Depilo (69), Jet Mathay (73) and Michael Bibat (70).
The other backers of the event are Nike Golf, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Cleveland, Pacsports, Srixon, Callaway, Sharp and FootJoy and media partners Balls TV and ABS-CBN.