MANILA, Philippines - Jhonnel Ababa put on a strong finish to fire a three-under 69 on Thursday and snatch a one-stroke lead over Zanie Boy Gialon and erstwhile joint leader Elmer Saban in the second round of the ICTSI Canlubang Golf Invitational at Cangolf’s north course in Laguna.
Ababa, last year’s three-leg winner but who could only turn in a pair of joint third place finishes this year, birdied two of the last three holes at the front nine where he completed play to a 34-35 card and surge ahead of the field heading to the final round of the P1 million tournament.
But the former amateur hotshot, who had a five-under 139 aggregate, faces a severe test in a bid to end a year-long title drought as three players lurked just a stroke or two behind, guaranteeing a shootout for the top P200,000 purse in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Gialon, who humbled ICTSI-Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit frontrunner Tony Lascuña in a playoff to rule the Negros Occidental leg last July, likewise leaned on a fiery windup on both nines to shoot an eagle-spiked 68 and put himself on track for a second crown at 140.
He hit three birdies in the last four holes at the front for a 33 then recovered from a three-bogey mishap from Nos. 10 to 13 with an eagle on the par-5 14th and back-to-back birdies from No. 16 for that 68.
Saban joined Gialon at second later in the day as the reticent Davaoeño shotmaker fought back with two birdies in the last nine holes to salvage a 71 as first round co-leader Randy Garalde faded on a hot, wind-less day with a 78 and tumbled to joint 17th at 147.
Cassius Casas flashed vintage form and carded a five-under 67 to join the mix at 141 for solo fourth while Jerson Balasabas failed to sustain a fiery 31 at the front with a closing 38 for a 69 dropped to joint fifth with ICTSI Pueblo de Oro leg winner Charles Hong, who made a 70, Jun Bernis, who blew a five-under card after 10 holes and settled for a 70, and Jay Bayron, who matched par 72, at 142, just three strokes off Ababa.
Casas, who last won two years ago when three players were disqualified on a final hole infraction at ICTSI Del Monte, could’ve actually joined Gialon and Saban at second if not for a final hole bogey.
Frankie Miñoza carded a 73 and safely made the cut at 150 with a 147 but last year’s champion Artemio Murakami failed to recover from a disastrous 79 start and missed the final 18 holes with a 160 after an 81.
Veteran Robert Pactolerin fired a 71 while Ferdie Aunzo turned in a 72 to share ninth place at 143 in the event sponsored by ICTSI and backed by Empire Golf, Titleist, Footjoy, Callaway, TaylorMade, Mizuno, Srixon, Nike Golf, Custom Clubmakers and Sharp with Balls, Studio 23, Pinoygolfer.com and Inquirer Golf as media partners.