Silang, Cavite—Michael Bibat flashed a near-impeccable iron game and putting and tamed Langer’s tough backside with a 32, leading to a five-under 66 and a two-stroke edge over Englishman Grant Jackson and three other local aces at the start of the ICTSI Riviera Classic here yesterday.
Bibat came through with a pair of back-to-back birdie feats inside six feet from Nos. 12 and 15 to launch his title drive then kept his spot on top of the huge 120-player international field with a two-birdie, one-bogey effort at the front of the dreaded par-71 layout.
“The game plan was to hit the fairway and near the target and I’m glad I made some good approach shots and my putting clicked,” said Bibat, who placed tied for second with Korean ace amateur Tom Kim here behind last year’s winner Clyde Mondilla.
Despite his joint 18th finish in last week’s Philippine Masters, Bibat said he’s enjoying top form and his superb start this week more than served notice of his bid for a first crown since scoring a breakthrough at Rancho Palos Verdes in 2013.
But the former Asian Games bronze medalist expects the going to get tougher and rougher in the next three days of the $100,000 event sponsored by ICTSI with Jackson, Charles Hong, Jun Bernis and Erwin Arcillas putting their own title bids in motion with 68s and the crack group of South African Mathiam Keyser and locals Tony Lascuña and Rufino Bayron churning out identical 69s.
Jackson, who tied for 19th in the kickoff leg of the second Philippine Golf Tour Asia season at Luisita won by Aussie David Gleeson last month, actually matched Bibat’s hot start with his own fiery binge at the front, going three-under after five holes. But he settled for pars the rest of the way, enabling Hong, Bernis and Arcillas to join him at second with a final hole birdie on No. 9.
Hong, also out to snap a long title drought in the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., checked a rollercoaster backside stint that featured four birdies but marred by a double-bogey and a bogey as he birdied the first two holes at the back then rebounded from a bogey mishap on No. 7 with that closing birdie for a 33-35 card.
Bernis came in on one of the late flights with three straight birdies from No. 15 to highlight his 37-31 card, while Arcillas, a playoff loser to Aussie David Gleason in the PGT Asia kickoff leg at Luisita last month, birdied Nos. 16 and 17 for a 33-35 round.
Jerson Balasabas, who topped the Masters at the tight Villamor for his maiden pro win, found the Langer layout not to his liking, making five bogeys and a double bogey with no birdie to show for a woeful 78. From eyeing a second straight crown, Balasabas is now hard-pressed to even make the cut.
So does Mondilla, who continued to grope form, shooting himself in the foot with an atrocious 79 marred by a double-bogey and one triple-bogey, while Gleeson hardly recovered from a triple-bogey mishap on No. 1 and a bogey on No. 4 with four birdies as he fumbled with four more bogeys at the back for a 75, nine strokes off Bibat.
But a curious mix of foreign and local aces stayed in early contention for the top $17,500 purse in the 72-hole championship backed by Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Champion, Summit Mineral Water, K&G Golf Apparel, BDO, Sharp, KZG, PLDT and M.Y. Shokai Technology, Inc., including Thais Pasavee Lertvilai and Chonlatit Chuenboonngam, Americans John Michael O’Toole and Lexus Keoninh, Australian Nabil Abdul, Korean Kim Dae Won, who all shot 70s, while PGTA Season I two-leg winner Jhonnel Ababa carded a 71 to lead the even-par scorers, who include Jobim Carlos, Albin Engino, Englishman Matt Killen, Indonesian Elki Kow, Japanese Ryoma Miki and Yuta Sudo, Brett Munson of the US, Dino Villanueva and Teemu Putkonen of Finland.