CLYDE MONDILLA lived up to the hype and he did it in style, coming through with two eagles, including a 14-foot putt on No. 18 that spiked an eight-under 64 for a one-stroke lead over an equally hot-starting Rupert Zaragosa after 18 holes of the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) Del Monte Championship in Bukidnon Tuesday.
While he expected to flourish on a course he calls home, Mondilla still needed to dish out a stellar play to hold off Zaragosa and a slew of others, including defending champion Jhonnel Ababa, Nilo Salahog and Justin Quiban, in their highly-charged chase for early control in the P2.5 million championship serving as the eighth leg of the Philippine Golf Tour (PGT).
“Actually, I didn’t expect the result, I was a bit nervous at the start due to lack of sleep. But I was able to control my game, especially my driving, after three holes,” said Mondilla, who gained strokes on Nos. 4 and 5 from short range then hit a solid 6-iron second shot from 230 yards on the par-5 sixth and drained a 10-foot eagle putt.
“It’s like I knew the allowance outright because I know this course very well,” he said in jest.
But he did admit to have had the edge in terms of local knowledge of Del Monte, saying: “I feel like I was just practicing because this is where I learned the game. It’s an advantage really.”
“In the 18th, I was okay to finish with a birdie but it went in, so it was a bonus,” he said, referring to his closing feat behind another superb 6-iron second shot from 220 yards that landed 14 feet off the cup.
He later added that he was just looking at a 4- or 5-under start “but it all fell into place,” said Mondilla, who is also spurred to do better in preparation for his Japan Q-School stint in October.
But Zaragosa, Ababa, Salahog and Quiban, among others, banked on their sheer talent to stay in pursuit despite their limited knowledge of the quaint course.
“Driving was the key, I hit all the fairways. My putting also clicked that’s why I was able to score a 7-under,” said Zaragosa, who sizzled in a flight behind Mondilla’s with a solid seven-birdie assault in a start he hoped would lead to the same result in Iloilo.
He led the PGT’s second leg from start to finish to run away with a 9-shot romp over multi-titled Tony Lascuña and record his maiden win last March.
“I’ll just stick to my game plan and try to get better each round and learn more,” said Zaragosa, who placed ninth in Taiwan Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour last week despite putting up a 12-under total.
Ababa likewise turned in a flawless card of 66 for joint third with Salahog as the former set in motion his drive for a repeat in this tournament he ruled by two over homegrown talent Reymon Jaraula in 2019.
“Maganda ang driving ko,” said Ababa, who also anchored his 34-32 round with solid iron play and superb wedge shots that set up birdie chances no farther than 10 feet.
Salahog, meanwhile, turned a wobbly start into a scorching finish as he overcame a two-bogey slip after three holes with eight birdies, including a day-best six-birdie binge at the back to churn out one of his strongest starts in the Pilipinas Golf Tournaments Inc. (PGTI)-organized circuit supported by official apparel Kampfortis Golf.
Quiban, on the other hand, put in a six-birdie, one-bogey start for solo fifth with a 67 coming off a stint in the Asian Development Tour in Vietnam, while Japanese Atsushi Ueda, who led in one stretch with a five-under card, faltered in a frontside finish with two bogeys against a birdie in the last five holes for a 68.
Michael Bibat shot a 69 while Jaraula, who dominated the Valley leg last June, failed to sustain a frontside 33 with two bogeys against a bogey at the back for a 70 even as Ira Alido led the big group of 71 scorers, which included Art Arbole, Russell Bautista, Anthony Fernando, Mhark Fernando, Sean Ramos, Gerald Rosales and Elmer Salvador.
Legend Frankie Miñoza matched par 72 for a share of 17th while Lascuña and reigning back-to-back The Country Club Invitational winner Guido van der Valk dropped to a share of 25th after failing to join the top guns’ big start with 73s.
Image credits: Roy Domingo