LAGUNA – Aussie Sam Brazel and unfancied Filipino James Ryan Lam produced a pair of five-under 66s to emerge the surprise joint leaders in the opening round of the $300,000 Solaire Open at The Country Club which yielded 38 under-par scores despite its windy condition Thursday.
Brazel cashed in on an early tee-time to gun down four birdies at the front, including on the difficult No. 4, then added two more at the back when the wind started to pound the open course to seize solo control. But he failed to sustain his charge and dropped a shot on No. 16 for a 31-35, enabling Lam to gain a view from the top.
“This is my first time here and I enjoy the layout,” said Brazel, a keen angler. “The wind is a bit tricky but I hole some nice putts which makes it a little bit easier. The wind was calm in the first few holes but kicked up on No. 4.”
Lam, chasing a breakthrough pro victory in four years, matched Brazel’s card hours later with a conservative approach on the dreaded layout, completing a rare bogey-free 33-33 card highlighted by a chip-in birdie from 40 feet on the treacherous par-4 18th for a one-stroke lead over teener Miguel Tabuena and veteran Rikard Karlberg of Sweden.
“I used my 3-wood on most of the holes and only pulled out my driver on the holes that are really wide,” said the 26-year-old Lam, who wound up 34th on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit last year.
Tabuena, 18, and Karlberg likewise put themselves in early contention with a pair of 67s while local bets Jessie Balasabas and Zanie Boy Gialon fired identical 68s to tie six others at fifth in the event sponsored by Solaire Resort and Casino and backed by DMCI Homes, BDO, PLDT and Meralco.
Other three-under par scorers were Richard Lee of Canada, Aussies Matthew Griffin and Nicholas Cullen and Thais Chawalit Plaphol and Prayad Marksaeng and India’s SSP Chowrasia.
“This is my best round here but I did prepare hard for this tournament, playing here almost daily the past three weeks. I’m glad my hard work is playing off,” said the 18-year-old Tabuena, who spiked his sterling round with two chip-in (birdies) on Nos. 16 and 8.
Like Brazel, Tabuena took advantage of benign condition early on and shot four birdies against a bogey at the back from where he started. Despite a bogey on the par-3 No. 3, he gained a lot of confidence after making a par on No. 4, coming through with birdies on Nos. 5 and 8 to tie Karlberg.
“No. 4 is very tight with the hazard on the right and an OB on the left. But when I parred it despite playing against the wind, I gained the confidence to move on and play better,” said Tabuena.
Carl Santos-Ocampo missed joining the 68 group with a bogey on the 18th, settling for a 69 in the company of South African Bryce Easton, Thai ace Prom Meesawat, Spain’s Carlos Pigem and Japan’s Akinori Tani while 20 others carded 70s as 38 players out of the starting field of 150 broke par.
While some of the lesser lights survived the first round scare, some of the pre-tournament favorites sputtered with two-time Asian Tour champion Thaworn Wiratchant fumbling with a 73 in a tie with Malaysian Nicholas Fung and fellow Thai Chapchai Nirat and local bet Jay Bayron.
Cassius Casas, winner of The Country Club Invitational here last month, blew a two-under card with a triple-bogey 7 on No. 4, limping with a 74.
Tony Lascuña and Angelo Que, two of the country’s best bets for the top $54,000 purse in this second leg of this year’s Asian Tour, led the one-under 70 scorers, who included Aussies Andrew Dodt and Terry Pilkadaris, Thais Wasin Sripattranusorn, Thammanoon Sriroj, Sattaya Supupramai and Jazz Janewattananond, Japan’s Naoto Nakanishi and Daisuke Kataoka, India’s Rahil Gangjee, American Berry Henson, France’s Seb Gros, Taiwan’s Lu Wen-the, Bangladeshi Siddikur Rahman, Englishman Simon Griffiths and Taiwanese Lin Wen-Tang, who ruled the inaugural Solaire Open at Wack Wack last year.