CLARK Freeport Zone — Guido van der Valk used an early backside slip to stoke up another searing frontside run, leading to a second straight 66 and a continued hold of the lead halfway through the ICTSI Mimosa Plus Championship here in Pampanga Wednesday.
The lead actually changed hands a number of times in the early going and late in the round in another scorching day but Jhonnel Ababa came up short by one to match van der Valk’s 132 total despite a new course mark of 65 at Mimosa Plus’ Acacia for a 133.
Michael Bibat also seized the lead at 10-under 134 on a solid six-under card but for a fleeting moment only, as the Dutchman came charging home with back-to-back birdies to cap a splendid closing frontside 30 marked by a three-birdie binge from No. 3.
But the title chase remains as tight and wide-open as ever heading to the last 36 holes of the season-ending P2 million championship.
Nilo Salahog kept his Philippine Golf Tour breakthrough bid going with a 135 after a 68, and Dino Villanueva likewise stayed in the hunt for a maiden win despite squandering a more than perfect start and finishing with a second 68 for a 136.
Valley leg runaway winner Reymon Jaraula slowed down with a 70 after a 67 but remained in the thick of things at 137 in a tie with young Sean Ramos, who also shot a 66. Paul Echavez and Elmer Salvador matched 68s and Kristoffer Arevalo and Keanu Jahns produced a pair of 69s for joint eighth at 138.
Japanese Toru Nakajima and Korean Min Seong Kim, who were in the early mix with 67 and 68, respectively, found the going a bit tougher and finished with 72 and 71, respectively.
They dropped to joint 12th at 139 with Marvin Dumandan, Rupert Zaragosa and Elee Bisera, who all carded 70s, and Luis Bagtas, who turned in a 70.
Taiwanese Ting Yu Chen floundered with a 79 after a 67 and fell to joint 33rd at 146 but made the 40-and-ties cut at 147.
For a while, Bagtas threatened to stir up play with a scorching frontside 32 but the son of former pro Eddie wavered with three bogeys in a birdie-less backside stint and tumbled off the leaderboard.
But any player can explode at any given day at Acacia, particularly the big hitters, setting the stage for a wild finish to the 72-hole championship, the 10th leg of this year’s circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, inc. and backed by PGTI official apparel Kampfortis Golf.
But no player comes into the pivotal round with so much confidence than van der Valk.
“I started slow and three-putted No. 10. I think it was because of the rain Tuesday night. The greens were a bit slower at the beginning of the day and they dried up a little bit,” van der Valk said.
He birdied the 16th to save a 36, enabling a host of others to take their shots at the top spot.