Fumbling with a bogey-marred frontside finish that enabled two strong rivals to pull within, Joenard Rates kept his cool in tepid conditions and birdied the last two holes to rescue a 71 for a one-stroke lead over a fast-charging Guido van der Valk halfway through the ICTSI Villamor Philippine Masters at the Villamor Golf Club yesterday.
That he did it while in the face of Van der Valk and Keanu Jahns’ strong charges in separate flights spoke well of the caliber of the player who pounded the flat but tricky layout with a 65 Wednesday but had appeared to have cracked with three bogeys in the first five holes at the front after a backside 34 start.
But short in length, the 5-foot-3 Rates never ran out of brilliance — and fighting spirit, coming through with a couple of clutch shots that set up birdie putts on Nos. 8 and 9 as he salvaged a one-under card for a 36-hole aggregate of eight-under 136.
“I hit errant drives and had a couple of mishits at the front,” said Rates, who went nine-under overall with birdies on Nos. 14 and 17 but yielded strokes on Nos. 2, 3 and 5 to enable Van der Valk and Jahns to close in with their respective low rounds.
Van der Valk put himself back in title contention after missing the cut at Luisita with a 137, matching Rates’ closing birdies at the front for a 67 after a 70, while Jahns mounted his own charge with his version of a solid five-under card after a 71 for third at 138.
The troika thus set up a shootout in moving day with Rates vowing to stay cool and relaxed, Jahns sticking to his game plan and routine and Van der Valk relying on his accuracy and consistency.
‘I hit errant drives and had a couple of mishits at the front.’
“Going to the last three holes, I told myself that I need to gain at least a stroke to save an even-par round. I played relaxed and made the most of my (birdie) chances. But there are still two days left, so the plan is to hit the fairways and greens and make the putts,” said Rates, seeking to end a five-year title spell in the circuit put up by ICTSI.
While a host of others remained four strokes behind or farther back the two-day leader, a spirited third round chase looms with Jhonnel Ababa pooling a 140 for fourth after a 71, Marvin Dumandan and Rolando Marabe Jr. matching outputs for the second straight day (70) for 141s, and amateur Gary Sales bouncing back with a 70 for a 142.
Art Arbole also fired a 71 to tie Jay Bayron, who matched par 72, at 143 while Gerald Rosales fumbled with a 73 to slip to joint 10th at 144 with Reymon Jaraula, Japanese Toru Nakajima and Nilo Salahog, who all carded 74s.
Forty-one players advanced with Iloilo leg runaway winner Rupert Zaragosa barely making it at 153 after a 76 in a tie with Dino Villanueva (74), Korean Kang Chon Koo (77) and Joel Pical (78).