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Korean takes charge with sizzling 66


‘I hit a lot of fairways with my solid driving.’

Tae Soo Kim finds himself on top of the leaderboard after the first round of the ICTSI Caliraya Springs Championship in Cavinti, Laguna. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PGT

CAVINTI, Laguna — From out of nowhere, Korean Tae Soo Kim seized the moment by upstaging a field of renowned rivals with a solid six-under 66 and taking a one-stroke lead over a late-charging Dino Villanueva at the start of the ICTSI Caliraya Springs Championship on Tuesday.

Granted a spot in the Philippine Golf Tour event through a Category 7 position after a joint 36th finish in the recent PGT Qualifying School, Kim displayed superb skills amid the challenging weather, utilizing his precise driving and adept putting to snatch the unexpected lead.

“I didn’t expect (to lead), especially since I struggled to hit par during practice round,” said Kim, reflecting on his modest expectations following missed cut stints in the circuit’s first two legs in Davao.

Despite wet conditions early on, Kim’s consistent fairway hits were key to his standout performance after 18 holes of the P2.5 million championship sponsored by ICTSI.

“I hit a lot of fairways with my solid driving,” said the 19-year-old from Seoul, who also excelled on the tricky surface of the Arnold Palmer-designed course, overcoming the day’s early showers by birdying Nos. 14, 16 and 18 in a strong backside start.

“My short putts were off but somehow, the long ones just found their way,” added Kim, who also gained strokes on Nos. 1, 5 and 8.

Villanueva, in hot pursuit with a strong finish for a 67, positioned himself just a stroke off Kim, highlighting his round with three birdies in the last five holes to negate a lone miscue on the par-5 No. 12 due to a flawed bunker shot and a missed putt on the unreceptive greens that demanded patience.

But the leaderboard is tightly packed with Sean Ramos, Angelo Que and Guido van der Valk matching 69s for third, and Aidric Chan, Keanu Jahns and Clyde Mondilla carding identical 70s for a share of sixth.

Rico Depilo, Eric Gallardo, Francis Morilla and Frankie Miñoza all shot 71s to make it a crowded leaderboard in the third leg of the 10-stage circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments Inc.

Ramos also started out strong, taking advantage of ideal conditions to birdie three of the first three holes in the first flight with Jahns and Reymon Jaraula. However, a pair of bogeys from No. 10 saw him slip despite a late birdie that helped him finish with a 69 alongside Que and Van der Valk.

“Everything was solid, especially my putting. I saved a lot of pars,” said Ramos, who pinpointed his wedge play as an area for improvement.

“I missed a lot of greens, which are very firm and hard to attack. So I needed to stay patient,” Ramos said.

Despite hitting six birdies against three bogeys marred by miscues on a couple of par-3s, Que said he was happy with the way he played on a course that played a lot tougher compared to last year where Tony Lascuña won with an 18-under 270 total.

“The course is harder because the greens are firm, the pins are tough and the wind was blowing,” said Que, a three-time Asian Tour winner who birdied the last hole to get into the early mix. “So, it’s really hard when you have those combinations.”

Van der Valk, who finished runner-up at Apo and Palos Verdes, faced challenges in the early going but quickly recovered to put himself back into contention for the third straight time.

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