MANILA -- Joenard Rates produced a rare two-eagle feat to seize a four-stroke lead over Jhonnel Ababa and young Korean Rho Hyun Ho at the start of the ICTSI Villamor Philippine Masters at the Villamor Golf Club, Wednesday.
Rates carded a seven-under 65, and missed a chance to tie the course record set by Vic Santia in the late 1990s when he flubbed a downhill putt from 12 feet on the par-5 18th.
But his brilliant 34-31 highlighted by eagles on the par-5 No. 8 and on the par-4 15th was more than enough to give him a big cushion as he chases a first Philippine Golf Tour crown since 2018.
Ababa also shot an eagle on the par-5 No. 2 but fumbled with three frontside birdies. He recovered in time with a four-birdie binge at the back to shoot a 69, matching Ho's three-under card for joint second.
Comebacking Toru Nakajima also hit two late backside birdies to card a 70 for a share of fourth with Reymon Jaraula, Nilo Salahog and back-to-back The Country Club Invitational champion Guido van der Valk.
Keanu Jahns bucked a two-over 38 card with a birdie-eagle feat from No. 12 to lead the 71 scorers, who included pro-am winner Jay Bayron, Marvin Dumandan, Rolando Marabe, Jr. and Gerald Rosales.
But the day belonged to Rates, who flourished despite lack of competitive play in the first five legs of this year's circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
“I really didn’t expect to score this low. I just tried to relax and hit as many fairways and greens,” said Rates.