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Salahog sizzles with 67, leads Quiban by 1

NILO Salahog catches fire early to open with a five-under 67 in the ICTSI South Pacific Classic. | Photograph by Joey Sanchez Mendoza for the daily tribune@tribunephl_joey

DAVAO City — Nilo Salahog waxed hot when a slew of big guns grappled in sweltering conditions, coming away with a five-under 67 to wrest a one-stroke lead over Justin Quiban in a crowded start to the ICTSI South Pacific Classic on Tuesday.

Among the early starters in a steamy day, Salahog anchored his bid on a solid backside start of 32 highlighted by a pitch-in birdie on the par-4 17th of the South Pacific Golf & Leisure Estates then holed out with a birdie on the ninth to find himself the befuddled leader in a power-packed field in the P2 million championship.

“I actually missed at least four birdie chances from pin-length high,” said Salahog, who tied for 17th on a tight course in last week’s Del Monte Championship but flourished on a long but open layout here.

“The fairways here are fairly wide so the big hitters have the edge. And even if you missed your drives, they don’t pose big problems.”

“But the greens are really tough and it’s too hot.”

But he still stood out when majority struggled on the undulating greens that vary in character and speed, leading to missed birdie opportunities — and three-putt miscues to some.

Two aces out to make up for their shaky final round stints at Del Monte, however, posted low rounds to get into the mix as Quiban shot a 68 for solo second and Jhonnel Ababa carded a 69 for joint third with three others.

Quiban, who tied for the lead in the Del Monte stretch but slipped with a bogey on the 17th, three-putted the par-5 closing hole and ended up third, mounted his charge with a frontside 33 and birdied Nos. 11 and 13 to gain a shared view of the top.

But the Asian Tour campaigner, who also vied in a PGA Tour event in 2021, yielded a shot on No. 14 and ran out with four pars for a 33-35.

“This course is kind of wide but driving isn’t that important but hitting more greens. It’s hard to read putts but luckily I was in better spots for me to sink a lot of them (putts),” said Quiban, who birdied Nos. 2, 7, 8, 11 and 13 to tie Salahog in the lead in the early going of the 72-hole championship.

Like the rest, Quiban shared the heat slowed down his charge in the closing holes, saying: “Towards the last few holes, I was getting tired and I just couldn’t press the gas and I can’t make any birdies anymore.”

Ababa trailed Salahog with a backside 35 in the first flight that included Enrico Gallardo and Elmer Saban but birdied Nos. 2 and 6 to put himself on track for redemption after likewise fading in the last 18 holes and winding up fifth at Del Monte where he reigned in 2019.

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