BAGUIO – Frankie Miñoza waxed hot with near-impeccable stints on the mound and the putting surface, firing a seven-under 61 and wresting a two-stroke lead over defending champion Jay Bayron and three others at the start of the rich ICTSI Camp John Hay Championship here Wednesday.
Miñoza proved he still got what it takes to dominate – at least on short courses like John Hay, taming its narrow fairways with consistent driving and bucking its last line of defense with superb putting that netted nine birdies, including five straight from No. 4.
He did stumble with back-to-back bogeys from No. 11 but more than made up for those mishaps with long birdies that anchored his impressive 29-32 card on a par-68 layout that relatively held its own after yielding just 25 under-par scores out of the starting field of 87.
“I hit the fairways consistently. There were about two or three greens that were slow and the rest were fairly fast,” said Miñoza, who racked up three victories last year, including back-to-back at the Del Monte and Pueblo de Oro legs of last year’s ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour.
“My putting was good except for those bogeys on Nos. 11 and 12. But I made crucial birdies on Nos. 15 and 17 inside 12 feet,” added Miñoza.
He, however, said it’s still a long way to go while stressing the need to be more consistent in the face of the expected charge of the top guns in the next three rounds of the P2 million championship sponsored by International Container Terminals Services, Inc.
Bayron, true to his vow to go not only for a second straight win here but also for a follow-up to his stirring come-from-behind victory in last week’s ICTSI Splendido Classic, missed closing in on Minoza with a bogey on the par-3 18th, dropping to 63 in the company of Anthony Fernando, Canadian Rick Gibson and Swede Malcolm Kokocinski.
“It’s still a good start. I just have to focus on my putting,” said Bayron, who rallied from five strokes down with a closing 59 then nipped Miguel Tabuena on the second playoff hole to reign here last year. The 2010 Order of Merit champion also struck back from nine shots down to snatch the Splendido crown from brother Rufino last week.
Fernando, chasing a breakthrough win in the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., birdied two of the last three holes to negate his double-bogey mishap on No. 14 after an errant approach shot into the wooded area, needing to play out and missing a 16-foot putt for bogey.
Still, his 32-31 card kept the former national amateur titlist in early contention along with Gibson, the foreign PGT Q-School top qualifier who skipped the Splendido leg, and Kokocinski, the top foreign player at No. 10 in the kickoff leg of the 16-stage circuit.
Gibson eagled the par-5 16th to complete a bogey-free 63 while Kokocinski, even after 13 holes, birdied the last five holes to gain a share of second in the event backed by Nike Golf, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Cleveland, Pacsports, Srixon, Callaway, Sharp and FootJoy and media partners Balls TV and ABS-CBN.
Zanie Boy Gialon, one of the tour’s young guns, aced the 155-yard No. 11 using a Titleist 8-iron and Pro V1 ball to lead the 64 scorers, who included Richard Abaring, Jessie Balasabas, Jet Mathay, Jhonnel Ababa and Elmer Salvador, who hit four birdies at the back to gain a share of sixth. Gialon received a trophy and certificate from John Hay for his feat.
Tony Lascuña also made his move a bit late, ramming in four birdies in row from No. 14 to salvage a three-under 65 in a tie with Clyde Mondilla and Jun Rates while Cassius Casas, Jhonnel Ababa and Joey Huerva turned in identical 66s.
Angelo Que and Tabuena failed to live up to their hype, at least in the first round, with the former blowing a 32 start with two bogeys and a double bogey at the back, needing to eagle the 17th to save a 67, the same output put in by Tabuena, who strung up nines of 33-34.