LIPA, Batangas – Arnold Villacencio put it all together to shoot a sizzling seven-under 65, sneaking past a slew of fancied players and lesser lights to lead by two over erstwhile joint leader Marvin Dumandan halfway through the P1 million ICTSI Summit Point Golf Classic here Thursday.
Villacencio went near flawless off the mound in fair condition and came through with superb iron shots that set up a number of birdie chances from close range. He buried nine in all, including a pair of three-string feats on both nines to negate a two-bogey mishap and move from joint eighth to the top of the star-studded field at 135.
“This is one of the rare times that I was able to hit my drives into the fairway and make the putts. I just hope to sustain it up to the final round,” said Villacencio, who has had a number of late-round collapses that has kept him winless on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour.
This time, however, he vows to go all the way and finally quench a long thirst for a breakthrough win on the circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
Not by a long shot as Dumandan is also hell-bent in ending a long spell despite slowing down with a 71 after a day-long struggle on Summit Point’s unpredictable surface following a bogey-free, eagle-aided 66 for a 137.
“ I just couldn’t get the feel,” rued Dumandan of his stroke that yielded 33 putts after making just 26 in the first round of the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournament, Inc. and backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports Phils. Inc., Srixon, Callaway, Mizuno, Empire Golf, Footjoy, Titleist, Custom Clubmakers, Sharp and KZG.
“But I’m still at it, just two down and 36 holes more to polish my stroke,” said Dumandan who headed straight to the practice green after signing his scorecard that featured just two birdies against a bogey.
Focus, however, will be on Tony Lascuña, who kept himself in contention with a second straight 69 and a 138 for joint third with unfancied Paul Echavez, who also host a second 69, and erstwhile joint leader Dante Becierra, who needed to birdie two of the last four holes to salvage a 72.
But what makes it daunting for Villacencio and Dumandan – and the rest of the surviving 41-player field – is that Lascuña has gone bogey-free in the first 36 holes, bringing to mind his flawless stint in the last 36 holes of the ICTSI Pilipinas Invitational at Southwoods where he beat Miguel Tabuena by four to annex his third straight leg win and fourth overall this year.
“It’s still a long way to go. I’ll just play my game and hope to give myself a crack at the title in the final round,” said Lascuña, raring to nail another win after a pair of runner-up finishes on the Asian Tour.
Four down off Dumandan and Becierra at the start of the day, Villacencio fell farther behind with a bogey on No. 12 where he started. But he rolled in a three-footer for birdie on No. 13 and followed it up with three straight inside seven feet from No. 15.
As Dumandan and Becierra floundered with their long game and putting, Villacencio kept hitting it straight and sinking them in, drilling another three-footer on No. 1 and stringing another three-straight from No. 3 inside four feet.
Cassius Casas, who pounced on Villacencio’s meltdown to win at ICTSI Iloilo, rebounded from a so-so start of 72 with a bogey-free five-under 67 to move to joint sixth at 139 with Anthony Fernando, who fired a 66, Clyde Mondilla, who shot a 69, and Jhonnel Ababa, who carded a 70, while Mars Pucay stood alone at 10th at 140 after a 69.
Tabuena struggled in the early going then birdied two of the last six holes to save a 71 although the ICTSI Manila Masters champion hardly moved to joint 11th at 141 in a tie with Carl Santos-Ocampo, who made a 68, Edward Reyes, who turned in a 69, and Jessie Balasabas, who also shot a 71.