BAGUIO, Philippines - – Jun Rates fended off Frankie Miñoza and Jay Bayron’s challenge with a poise of a veteran and came out unscathed with a bogey-free five-under 63, moving 18 holes away from nailing a breakthrough victory with a two-stroke lead over Tony Lascuña in the ICTSI Camp John Hay Championship here on Friday.
Ranged against two of the most fancied players in the fold, Rates thrived under pressure and instead came through with a solid game that completely baffled Miñoza and Bayron, his flawless 33-30 card not only keeping him on top but also giving him a two-shot cushion with a 16-under 188 total after three rounds at the John Hay layout.
“I hope to finally score a breakthrough here. I’ve been looking for this chance for such a long time,” said Rates, whose best finish in a five-year pro career was third here in 2012, in Pilipino.
The Lipa, Batangas-based shotmaker flashed superb iron shots to set up birdies from as close as three feet on No. 2 with the farthest at 13 feet on No. 3. He also birdied Nos. 10 and 17 from six feet and No. 16 from 10 feet.
Bayron, the defending champion in this P2 million event sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc., matched Rates’ three-under card after 10 holes and stayed within one. But he bogeyed No. 12 and needed to birdie the 18th from six feet to salvage a 65, dropping to third at 191.
Miñoza, who dominated the elite field with a 61 in the opener of the second leg of the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour, groped for form and fumbled with three bogeys against just two birdies for a one-over 69, tumbling to solo fifth with a 195, seven shots behind.
But Rates will have a tougher final round rival in Lascuña, the reigning back-to-back Order of Merit winner who shot the day’s best seven-under 61 in ideal condition, spiked by a four-birdie binge from No. 6, for solo second at 190.
“Joenard (Jun) has been playing solid so we have to match that. But I have found the rhythm in my putting stroke so I think I have a chance,” said Lascuña, who also hit four birdies at the back against a lone bogey on No. 14 off an errant drive into the trees.
Despite falling three shots off Rates, Bayron remains confident of his chances for a back-to-back title romp, here at John Hay and on the circuit after scoring a stirring come-from-behind win at ICTSI Splendido last week.
“I still got a chance for back-to-back. But I have to match Joenard’s hot game,” said Bayron, the third player in the championship flight.
But after proving his worth against Miñoza and Bayron, Rates faces a more daunting task of withstanding the final round pressure, including the expected charge from Lascuña and Bayron.
“This is my first time to lead in the final round so I must stay focus, especially on my shots. It’s a short course but there’s little room for error so I have to think on each of my shot and try to stay cool,” said Rates.
Fil-Am Carl Santos-Ocampo bucked a double-bogey mishap on a relatively easy par-5 No. 1 and a bogey on No. 12 with eight birdies, including four straight from No, 14, as he put in a 63 for fourth at 194.
Unfancied but long-hitting Orlan Sumcad, who rallied with a 62 Thursday, sustained his run and gunned down five birdies in the first 11 holes to close in on Rates. But he bogeyed two of the last seven holes and settled for a 65 for solo sixth at 196.
Angelo Que, five down at the start of the day, charged back with four birdies after eight holes but bogeyed three of the last 10 and wound up with a 67 in a tie for seventh at 197 with Miguel Tabuena (66), Jhonnel Ababa (67), Elmer Salvador (67) and Canadian Rick Gibson (67).
The rest of the 46 survivors stood too far behind to contend for the top P360,000 purse in the four-day championship backed by Nike Golf, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Cleveland, Pacsports, Srixon, Callaway, Sharp and FootJoy and media partners Balls TV and ABS-CBN with Mhark Fernando bouncing back with a 65 to tie Anthony Fernando (68) and Swede Malcolm Kokocinski (67) at 12th at 198.
Mars Pucay rallied with a 64 to join Jessie Balasabas (67), Richard Abaring (68), Korean Gyuha Park (65) and Japanese Tomokazu Yoshinaga (66) at 199.