BINANGONAN, Rizal, Philippines – Veteran Cassius Casas sizzled at the finish and pounced on youthful Miguel Tabuena’s shaky windup to snatch a one-stroke lead on a fiery course record-equaling seven-under 65 at the start of the rich ICTSI Manila Masters at the Eastridge Golf Club here yesterday.
Casas birdied the par-5 18th then watched Tabuena hole out with a three-putt bogey for a two-shot swing and a one-stroke cushion in a thrilling first round shootout among the fancied bets in the P3.5 million event serving as the eighth leg of the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour.
Casas and Tabuena, who settled for a 66, actually battled it out shot-for-shot and putt-for-putt with Tony Lascuña in one of the featured flights. But the reigning back-to-back Order of Merit winner and current OOM leader reeled back with a bogey on No. 14 and needed to birdie the 17th to join another chief contender Jay Bayron at 68.
For a while, Mhark Fernando stood all alone at the helm with a flawless 67 fashioned out in the privacy of a wind-less morning flight but yielded the lead in the face of Casas and Tabuena’s blazing windup late in the afternoon.
“I’ve been trying to put it all together and I’m glad I did it today (yesterday),” said Casas, referring to his game that produced two top five finishes and two top 20s against three missed cuts in the first seven legs of the Philippine Golf Tour sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
The 65 tied former touring pro Dan Cruz’s feat many years ago with Casas, winner of this year’s The Country Club Invitational, pulling it off by hitting all fairways and missing just one green on No. 17, which he saved.
With two top four finishes at ICTSI Riviera and ICTSI Valley, Tabuena said he was satisfied with his round where he hit all greens although he later rued his final hole miscue, a three-putt mishap from around the fringe of the par-5 finishing hole.
“It was a good round. But I missed a couple of short birdie putts although I made a few long ones to even it out,” said Tabuena. “But I bogeyed what for me was the easiest hole.”
It was indeed a heartbreaker of a finish for the 19-year-old Tabuena, who engaged Casas in a day-long shootout until he surged ahead with four birdies in a five-hole stretch, the last on No. 17 where Casas barely salvaged a par from seven feet.
With the wind at manageable level, the big guns had a virtual field day on the mountain-top course offering a view of the Laguna Lake with 21 players from the starting field of 91 breaking par and six others scoring 72s. Jay Bayron, winner at ICTSI Splendido, overcame a three-over card at the back with seven birdies, including three at the front for a 68 as he joined Lascuña at fourth.
Michael Bibat hit four birdies against a bogey, James Ryan Lam and Carl Santos-Ocampo made five bogeys to negate a two-bogey mishap, and Benjie Magada went bogey-free with three birdies for identical 69s.
Angelo Que, also chasing his first win on the local circuit this year, recovered from a poor start with three birdies in the last six holes for a two-under 70, tying Joey Huerva, Anthony Fernando, Jhonnel Ababa and ICTSI Riviera runaway winner Elmer Salvador at 10th.
Struggling a bit with just a birdie to show at the front, Que reeled back with back-to-back bogeys from No. 11 but birdied the two par-5s then added another one on No. 16 to save a pair of 35s.
Salvador, on the other hand, hit back-to-back birdies from No. 2 but dropped two shots on the par-4 No. 7, needing to birdie Nos. 12 and 18 to wheel back into contention in the four-day championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Leg winners Charles Hong and Rufino Bayron struggled a bit with identical 73s while Frankie Minoza stood in danger of missing the cut at 53rd after a turning in a birdie-less 77 card.
Casas, Tabuena and Lascuña lived up to the hype and shot it out in sweltering heat with Casas gunning down four birdies at the front and Tabuena and Lascuña staying within striking distance with identical 33s at the turn.
Lascuña tied Casas with a birdie on the 12th but fell back with a bogey on No. 14, while Tabuena, after three straight pars at the back, rattled off three straight birdies from No. 13, thus catching Casas, who birdied Nos. 13 and 14, at six-under.
Tabuena seized the solo lead with a birdie on No. 17, only to hole out with a three-putt bogey, enabling Casas to storm ahead in the event backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports, Srixon, FootJoy, It’s More Fun in the Philippines, Callaway, Mizuno, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Sharp and KZG with Balls Channel, Inquirer Golf and ABS-CBN Sports+Action as media partners.