Davao—Korean Park Jun Sung, who could not seem to get past the cutoff line in the combined tournaments of the Philippine Golf Tour and PGT Asia, took charge with a bogey-free five-under 67, leading the early surge of the lesser lights in the P3 million ICTSI Apo Golf Invitational here yesterday.
While the pre-tournament favorites, including the homegrown talents, fumbled and stumbled in early downpour at the tight Apo layout, Park flashed awesome form from start to finish, birdying the first two then picking up three more strokes on Nos. 9, 14 and 18 on a tricky course he hardly had knowledge of.
He left as soon as he signed his scorecard but the 33-34 start should augur well for the player who missed the cut in the PGTA’s first three legs at Luisita, Riviera and Manila. Park also failed to advance in the PGT’s kickoff tournament at Eagle Ridge last March before finishing tied for 24th in the Philippine Masters at Villamor last May.
The unfancied bets actually took the spotlight in the first round of the P3 million tournament sponsored by ICTSI as Charles Hong and Nilo Salahog turned in identical 68s to trail Park by one while Ramil Bisera took the cudgels for the local aces by firing a 69 for joint fourth with Reymon Jaraula and the long-hitting Orlan Sumcad.
Another Korean, Lee Song, birdied two of the last four holes at the back to shoot a 70 and join Johvanie Abaño, PGTA Riviera leg winner Jobim Carlos, American Lexus Keoninh, Mars Pucay, Joenard Rates and Davaoeño Elmer Salvador at seventh.
Jay Bayron, winner of the recent PGTA Manila Southwoods, hit two birdies at the back to card a 71 to tie fellow Davaoeño Ferdie Aunzo, Marvin Dumandan, Anthony Fernando, Japanese Keisuke Takahashi, James Ryan Lam, Arnold Villacencio and amateur Kuresh Samanodi at 14th.
Samanodi actually stood among the leaders with a four-under card after 12 holes at the front but he bogeyed No. 4 and dropped two strokes on the par-4 eighth to reel back in the early going of the 72-hole tournament organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. which kicked off a seven-leg, three-month joust in Mindanao and Visayas.
But the day belonged to Park, who combined solid driving and superb iron game to set up birdie chances in the first two holes then sustained his form to the finish to emerge the surprise leader and one of the only two players to preserve bogey-free cards.
Hong, who last won at Luisita in 2015, matched that solid round with a near-impeccable iron play, birdying all but one of the four par-3s while Salahog bounced back from a bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie start at the back with four birdies in the first six holes at the front to stay in the early hunt.
“I’ve been training a lot and it boosted my confidence and helped my game overall today (yesterday),” said Salahog, who with Hong had missed the cut at PGTA Southwoods last month.
Dutch Guido Van der Valk, who scored a PGT breakthrough at Eagle Ridge last March, had a two-birdie, two-bogey effort to lead the even par scorers, who include Rufino Bayron, Korean Kim Joo Hyung, Japanese Issei Mori, Joseph Suarez and Peter Villaber.
A slew of fancied bets, however, found the going tougher at Apo with PGTA two-leg winner Jhonnel Ababa, Masters champion Jerson Balasabas, and last year’s PGTA CAT Open titlist Justin Quiban hobbled with 73s along with Ira Alido, Jun Bernis, Rico Depilo, Allan Remata, American Pete Vilairatana, and pro-am winner Albin Engino while American Nicolas Paez, Koreans Hwang Myung Chal and Kim Sung Wook, Gerald Rosales and Dino Villanueva all had 74s.
Worse was former three-time Order of Merit winner Tony Lascuña, who exuded confidence coming into the event with a number of top five finishes but bogeyed four of the first 14 holes before birdying the 17th for a 75.
Other three-over par scorers were Edgar Ababa, Paul Echavez, Kris Etter, Jelbert Gamolo, Keanu Jahns, Rolando Marabe Jr., Francis Morilla, former PGTA leg winner Rene Menor, Teodoro Osabel, Robert Pactolerin, Elmer Saban and Richard Sinfuego in the event backed BDO, KZG, Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Sharp, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and PLDT.