NILO SALAHOG held sway in the face of fiery assaults from a band of pursuers then hit a clutch birdie to save a 68 Wednesday to again join Justin Quiban at the helm midway the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) South Pacific Classic that’s heading to a wild finish in Davao City.
Salahog, who showed up the Tour’s big guns with a superb 67 in stifling conditions Tuesday, kept his mastery of the South Pacific course and the stellar field with a four-birdie run in the first 12 holes then rebounded from a miscue on No. 13 that momentarily dropped him off the lead with a birdie on the 17th as he tied an equally red-hot Quiban at the helm at nine-under 135.
Quiban put in a solid 67 after a 68 in his steady pursuit of a second Philippine Golf Tour (PGT) victory following a third place finish at Del Monte last week ruined by a last-hole slip and he liked with the way he’d been churning out low rounds coming off a series of stints abroad.
“I wasn’t expecting to lead but with the way I’m playing, I feel like I’m confident. I think I could hit the rounds that I’d like to shoot,” said Quiban, who first won in Binitin, Negros Occidental in 2018 then nailed a victory in PGT Asia at Luisita in the same year.
Salahog, chasing his maiden triumph on the Tour put up by ICTSI, also kept pounding the fairways with his booming drives, accurate iron play and putting but braced for a sterner test in the last 36 holes of the P2 million championship supported by Kampfortis Golf, the official apparel of the organizing Pilipinas Golf Tournaments Inc.
“Driving, irons and putting, all’s well,” said Salahog, whose last birdie came after he holed out with a pitch-in eagle on the par-4 penultimate hole in the first round.
“Yes, there’s pressure because just everyone could win it,” he added.
To overcome it, he stressed the need to stay focused and apply what he’s been training and practicing the last few months as he slugs it out with the seasoned Asian Tour campaigner in the pivotal round Thursday.
But a host of others likewise jostled for position in anticipation of a heated third round battle of power and hits with Marvin Dumandan seizing solo third at 137 after shooting an eagle-aided 68 and Iloilo leg runaway winner Rupert Zaragosa also bouncing back with a four-under card for a 138.
Tony Lascuña, who beat Ira Alido by three here to cap a three-victory run in 2019 before the pandemic, also wheeled back into contention with his own version of a 68 for a 139 while fellow Davaoeño Elee Bisera also shot a four-under card to move to solo sixth at 140.
Cebu-based Japanese Gen Nagai carded a 70 to tie Keanu Jahns and Dino Villanueva, who matched 72s, at 141 while locals Elmer Salvador, who fired a 70, and Jay Bayron and Ferdie Aunzo, who matched 71s, pooled identical 142s.
Three-peat seeking Clyde Mondilla continued to struggle on the course’s exacting surface and finished with a 71 after a 72 for a 143, eight strokes behind the joint leaders.
Joining Mondilla at 13th are Art Arbole. Francis Morilla and Jhonnel Ababa, who shot 67, 72 and 74, respectively.
Still, Quiban looms as the marked player in the last two rounds and the one-time PGA Tour campaigner said he’s more ready to take up the challenge both from the cream of the pro crop and the best of emerging stars.
“I’ve been in contention for the past few weeks even outside of the country, so I feel I’m getting used to playing to this kind of conditions. I think, it will boil down to experience. Just pure focus,” he said.
But he maintained one also needs some luck in tackling the greens of South Pacific to emerge on top Friday.
“One could only get lucky with putting on this type of greens. Honestly, you can’t manage these greens. You will need pure luck, you just have to read every side and every angle of the putts,” said Quiban.