2018 ICTSI Pradera Verde Classic (PGTA): Ababa, Paez wrest control as leaders fumble

Jhonnel Ababa studies his line of putt on No. 9.

LUBAO, Pampanga – Back in form, Jhonnel Ababa is back in the title hunt while American Nicolas Paez pressed his bid for a breakthrough as they took charge of the elite field halfway through the rich ICTSI Pradera Verde Classic that saw two of the erstwhile leaders melt in the heat at the finish here.

Sustaining his backside charge in the first round where he gunned down two birdies to save a 71, Ababa hit three birdies in the same side yesterday then added a birdie on No. 5 while rescuing a couple of pars to preserve a spotless 35-33 card at the long Pradera Verde Golf and Country Club layout.

Jhonnel Ababa waits for his turn on the 18th green.

That kept the Davaoeño shotmaker on track for a second straight crown on the Philippine Golf Tour Asia after scoring a runaway seven-stroke triumph at Eagle Ridge last week as he pooled a five-under 139, the same aggregate assembled by Paez, who endured steamy condition to string a four-birdie, two-bogey card for a 70.

Rufino Bayron and Aussie David Gleeson, who shared the first round lead with Andrew Campbell, also of Australia, and Lexus Keoninh of the US with 68s Wednesday, actually held sway majority of the way with the former even coming through with an eagle on the par-5 No. 12 to negate a bogey on the 11th. But after hitting another birdie on No. 15, Bayron wavered and closed out the frontside with a horrible 40, marred by a double-bogey on No. 5 and a bogey on the closing par-5 ninth.

American Nicolas Paez checks his putting distance on No. 18.

He wound up with a 74 and tumbled to joint sixth with Gleeson, who fell with three closing bogeys at the front, and PGTA Riviera leg winner Clyde Mondilla, who carded a second 71, at 142, now three strokes off the new joint leaders heading to the last 36 holes of the $100,000 event serving as the seventh leg of the Philippine Golf Tour Asia.

Meanwhile, Tony Lascuña rebounded from a mediocre 72 start with a late charge of three birdies in the last four holes at the front, his 69 and a 141 putting him in joint third with American Josh Salah and Jay Bayron, who fired a 70 and 72, respectively, two strokes behind the joint leaders with 36 holes left in the event sponsored by ICTSI.

Campbell dropped off the lead first with a 43 start marred by a 9 on the par-5 No. 3 but put on a fiery windup of 32 spiked by an eagle on No. 12 to salvage a 75 although he slid to a share of ninth at 143 with Frankie Miñoza, who also broke par with a 70.

Nicola Paez and his caddie go over their distance for an approach shot on No. 18.

Keoninh barely kept his spot at the top with a 37 at the back but faltered with a 39 for a 76 that dropped him to joint 11th at 144 with Zanieboy Gialon, who shot a 71, James Ryan Lam and Dutch Guido Van der Valk, who both had 75s in the event backed by Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Champion, Summit Mineral Water, K&G Golf Apparel, BDO, Sharp, KZG, PLDT and M.Y. Shokai Technology, Inc.

Fifty-two players made the cut at 150 with Thai Parama Chansue, Eric Gallardo, Cookie La’O and Joseph Suarez all carding 74s to join Erwin Arcillas (75), Kris Etter (75), Omar Dungca (77), Jobim Carlos (80) and amateur Jolo Magcalayo (76) at 44th.

Young Justin Quiban, who scored a breakthrough in the PGT Asia fifth leg in the CAT Open at Luisita last month, limped with two double bogeys and a triple bogey on a flat course and missed the cut with a 152 after a 79. Others who failed to advance were National Pro-Am winner Tonlits Asistio (76-152), CAT Open runner-up Joenard Rates, who also made a 70 for a 155, Ferdie Aunzo (78-156),