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Ababa hits 67, grabs control

Jhonnel Ababa shot a tournament-best five-under-par 67 and inched closer to ending a three-year title drought in the ICTSI Pradera Verde Championship in Lubao, Pampanga Thursday.

“My game was just super — driving, tee-shot and putting. It’s also so nice to hit shots on the well-maintained fairways and when I look at greens, the holes seem to be so big and I felt it’s so easy to make birdies,” said Ababa in Filipino.

“I also dealt with the wind pretty well and stayed positive all day. I just hope to do it again tomorrow.”

On 7-under 209, Ababa goes into the final round with a two-shot lead over halfway leader Tony Lascuña and Dutch Guido van der Valk.

The multi-titled ace from the noted Davao golfing clan has not won since ruling the ICTSI Del Monte Championship in 2019 after coming off a prolific season when he won five titles.

While most struggled with club selections, Ababa birdied all four par-5s and added two more on 6 and 16 against a lone bogey on 15.

The Calatagan pro, whose campaign is backed by the Borough Lasik Center,
But it won’t be easy to break the slump as Van der Valk bucked what he termed as a “dull” backside stint to shoot a second straight 70 that proved enough to tie him at second with Lascuña, who settled for a 72, at 211, while Keanu Jahns sneaked into contention with a gutsy 71 for a 213.

Despite squandering the lead, Lascuña was more than satisfied salvaging an even par round.

“It’s tough out there with the wind blowing from all over and the greens just wouldn’t bite. But overall, I think my game was okay and I believe that I still have a chance. I’ll just have to prepare and try to enjoy the game tomorrow,” said Lascuña, a four-time Order of Merit champion.

“Irons no good,” rued Van der Valk, the Splendido Taal leg winner who had four birdies against a double bogey at the front.

“But I had a very boring back nine — one three-putt bogey and a birdie. Other than those, a lot of birdie putts missed, so, I got to hit the iron a lot better because it’s been pretty bad in the week.”

“Hope I can get in the lead and stay unlike today (yesterday) where sadly I didn’t quite keep it up but Jhonnel played really well,” added the Manila-based Dutch ace.

Art Arbole fumbled with eight bogeys and a double bogey against three birdies for a 79 for joint 16th on 220 with Sean Ramos (71), Dino Villanueva (75) and Mars Pucay (76).

Jahns made two birdies in the last five holes to card a 71 for solo fourth on 213 while Angelo Que dropped to joint fifth on 214 after a 73.

Tied with Que were Ira Alido, Gerald Rosales, and Reymon Jaraula, who fired 68, 70 and 71, respectively.

Legend Frankie Miñoza carded a 71 in solo ninth on 215 while amateur Elee Bisera wound up with a 74 and slipped to 10th on 216, seven strokes off Ababa.

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