Pagunsan defies odds, grabs lead with 2nd 66
Juvic Pagunsan keeps his iron game working to fuel his title-retention bid.
Pagunsan defies odds, grabs lead with 2nd 66
Dante Navarro ( - June 20, 2019 - 6:43pm

BACOLOD – Switching focus between tasks that require different demands, Juvic Pagunsan did well on both, securing the halfway lead in the ICTSI Negros Occidental Classic and keeping tab on his indisposed wife.

Pagunsan birdied the first two holes in an early start but slowed down with a run of pars although his other birdies on Nos. 9 and 15 netted him a second straight 66 and a one-stroke lead over a fast-charging James Ryan Lam as he stayed on track for back-to-back championships in this P3 million event put up by ICTSI.

As erstwhile leader Yudai Suzuki turned from awesome (64) to awful (74) and Jhonnel Ababa threw away three strokes on the par-5 No. 18 and ended up with a 68, the hometown hero took his familiar spot on top with a 36-hole aggregate of eight-under 132 as he kept his game on a competitive level despite being hobbled by personal woes.

“It’s a day-to-day struggle. Hati pa rin ang focus ko. I just hope to do better in the last two days,” said Pagunsan, who nipped reigning Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit winner but absentee Jobim Carlos on the second playoff to win this event last year.

He still rued the lack of rest but hopeful that things will fall into place in the last two days of the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.

“My goal is to hit the fairways and greens and make the most of my (birdie) chances,” added Pagunsan. “I still haven’t had enough rest since I had to rush back home and take care of my wife.”  

But as Suzuki and Ababa fumbled and stumbled in hot conditions, Lam came out of nowhere to assume the challenger’s role at 133, spiking his fiery 64 with seven birdies, including two in the last four at the front.

It was a big surge for Lam, who placed last in Club Filipino de Cebu Invitational and missed the cut in last week’s Bacolod Classic. After an opening 69, the former PGT Asia leg winner at Luisita hit three birdies at the back then picked up strokes on the first two holes at the front. He took his first bogey on the fifth but birdied Nos. 6 and 8 to threaten Pagunsan.

Zanieboy Gialon, winner here in 2012, also moved into contention with a 67, pooling a 135 for joint third with Pete Vilairata of the US, who also shot a three-under card, while Japanese Ryui Hashimoto took over from Suzuki with a 136, also after a 67, in a tie with Nilo Salahog, who also fired a 67, keeping five players within four strokes off the pace with 36 holes to play in the P3 million event.

Ababa, who opened with a 69, birdied four of the first seven holes then fought back from a bogey mishap on the ninth with back-to-back birdies from No. 13 to close within two off Pagunsan with a six-under overall card. But the three-time PGT Asia leg winner hit a wayward shot on the 18th and ended up with a triple-bogey, settling for a 68 and a 137 for solo seventh.

Jay Bayron and Gerald Rosales also turned in identical 67s to join the big group of two-under overall scorers at 138, who included Englishman George Twyman (68), Michael Bibat, Aussie David Gleeson and Japanese Kei Matsuoka, who all carded 69s, Richard Sinfuego and Cebu leg winner Guido Van der Valk, who groped for similar 72s, and Suzuki.

The 29-year-old Suzuki, who stunned the stellar international field with a bogey-free 64 Wednesday, actually sustained his awesome form with two birdies in the first five holes to go eight-under overall. But the Osaka native took his first bogey on No. 9 then dropped two strokes on the par-4 11th.

Though he recovered with a birdie on the par-3 13th, Suzuki cracked under pressure to make a big rebound, holing out with bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16 then dropping another two strokes on the next for a 40 and a 74.

Forty-six players made the cut at three-over 143, including Colombian Sebastian Lopez (68), Johvanie Abaño (69), Mhark Fernando (69), Enrico Gallardo (70), Jun Bernis (71), Yu Ikeda of Japan (71), Mhark Fernando (69), Rey Pagunsan (72), Ira Alido (74) and Tony Lascuña (74).

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