JOENARD RATES remained cool in tepid conditions and birdied the last two holes to salvage a 71 and barely hold on to a one-stroke lead over a fast-charging Guido van der Valk halfway through the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) Villamor Philippine Masters at the Villamor Golf Club Thursday.
Rates withstood the pressure in the face of van der Valk and Keanu Jahns’ strong charges in separate flights—revealing why he’s such a high caliber of a player who pounded the flat but tricky layout with a 65 in the first round but 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—as he came through with clutch shots that set up birdie putts on Nos. 8 and 9 for that 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’s closing birdies at the front for a 67 after a 70, while Jahns, seeking to complete an unfinished business on this military layout after losing the inaugural Match Play Invitational crown to absentee Tony Lascuña last November, 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 tipped to rely on his accuracy and consistency.
“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,” said Rates, seeking to end a five-year title spell in the circuit put up by ICTSI. “But there are still two days left, so the plan is to hit the fairways and greens and make the putts.”
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).
Villamor officials, meanwhile, briefed the organizing Pilipinas Golf Tournaments Inc. about Typhoon Mawar, which has strengthened into a super typhoon as per Pag-asa monitoring. While it has yet to directly affect the country, they said Mawar may enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility by Sunday.
The P2.5 million event ends Saturday.
Overnight rains rendered the course and the greens softer with van der Valk and Jahns cashing in on the favorable conditions to produce the day’s best rounds and get themselves a clear shot at the championship.
“I just kept trying to hit fairways and greens, because once you start missing them, it’s so hard in the trees and in the high roughs, it’s that simple,” said van der Valk, who hit 32 greens in the first two days of the 72-hole championship.
“I’m creating a lot of birdie chances, it’s just a matter of waiting for the putts to go,” added the reigning back-to-back The Country Club Invitational winner.
The power-hitting Jahns, meanwhile, regained his rhythm after an early struggle Wednesday, saying: “I had trouble with my distance control (in the first round), especially on my approach shots. But I stuck to my routine and hopefully, I’d play the same way I played today (yesterday).”
“I just have to stay focused and try not to get ahead of myself,” added the Fil-German ace.
Image credits: Roy Domingo
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