MANILA, Philippines - Unfancied Elmer Saban and Randy Garalde took different routes but produced the same results as they shot a pair of three-under 69s to seize a one-stroke lead over Jay Bayron, Jhonnel Ababa and Ferdie Aunzo at the start of the ICTSI Canlubang Golf Invitational at Cangolf’s north course in Laguna yesterday.
Saban, his lean frame belying his power off the tee, used a fine start of 34 to set his bid in motion then recovered from a bogey mishap on No. 12 with two birdies inside six feet in the last five holes for that 69 and the early lead in the P1 million event.
Garalde, out to duplicate or better a career-best of joint runner-up finish at ICTSI Rancho Palos Verdes last September, made an eagle-2 on No. 8 then birdied the last three holes to join flightmate Saban at the helm with Bayron and Ababa rallying with 33s to catch Aunzo at third.
Mhark Fernando, winner of the last leg at ICTSI Calatagan, also put himself in contention with a 71 in a tie with unheralded Pepito Jomar while leg winners Zanie Boy Gialon and Charles Hong matched par 72s to tie Jun Bernis and veteran Robert Pactolerin at eighth in the 54-hole tournament organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Garalde actually headed for another disastrous start after bogeying three of the five holes. But he holed out with a wedge shot from 65 yards on No. 8 then hit a birdie on the par-3 No. 11 to draw level par before closing out with that birdie-binge inside eight feet.
“I didn’t expect to lead. I just played my game and tried to get back and match Saban’s hot start,” said Garalde, adding that he would just enjoy and play his game in the last two rounds to ease off the pressure.
Expected to press his bid is Aunzo, who took charge early with a 33 despite an opening hole bogey and threatened to pull away with another birdie on the 10th. But the former amateur hotshot, who never tasted victory since winning the inaugurals of the circuit in 2009, bogeyed two of the next three, birdied the 14th but holed out with another bogey for a 70.
Ababa, chasing his first win after racking up three victories last year, birdied three of the last three holes while Bayron, coming off a victory in the Asian Development Tour leg in Malaysia two weeks ago, also made three birdies at the back to be in the thick of things in the penultimate leg of the 15-stage circuit sponsored by ICTSI.
Frankie Miñoza, coming off a victory in the Japan Seniors Open two weeks ago, never recovered from a double-bogey mishap on the first hole, mixing three birdies with the same number of bogeys for a 74 while defending champion Artemio Murakami, who opened with a course-record 64 en route to posting an eight-shot romp here last year, made an awful 79 and in danger of missing the cut at 55th place.
The other backers of the circuit are Empire Golf, Titleist, Footjoy, Callaway, TaylorMade, Mizuno, Srixon, Nike Golf, Custom Clubmakers and Sharp with Balls, Studio 23, Pinoygolfer.com and Inquirer Golf as media partners.