LUBAO, Pampanga: Clyde Mondilla put on a late assault to check a fumbling frontside start and force a four-way tie for the lead at three-under 69 at the start of the windy first round of the ICTSI Pradera Verde Classic at the sprawling Pradera Verde layout here yesterday.
Reeling down the crowded leaderboard with a four-bogey, three-birdie stint after nine holes, Mondilla got his rhythm in time, stringing four straight birdies from No. 12 and putting himself back in the early mix of contenders in the $100,000 event serving as the penultimate leg of the 2019-20 Philippine Golf Tour Asia season.
But the reigning Philippine Open champion faced a curious blend of rivals in pursuit of a third PGTA diadem, led by flightmate and the winningest player on the fledgling circuit, the three-peat seeking Jhonnel Ababa, veteran campaigner Guido Van der Valk of the Netherlands and group-mate and tour rookie Jack Lane-Weston from Australia.
“I played good and the course is in perfect shape,” said Mondilla, the reigning PGTA Order of Merit winner who ruled the Riviera leg of the circuit’s inaugurals in 2017 then bested a tough international field to win the country’s premier championship at The Country Club last year.
Ababa also leaned on a late charge to launch his drive for a record third straight championship here, birdying four of the last eight, including a 22-footer on the 17th, against a bogey, so did Van der Valk, who shot three birdies in the last seven to break an even par round.
Lane-Weston, on the other hand, bucked a bogey on No. 4 with birdies on Nos. 5, 8 and 9 then bounced back from a bogey-mishap on the 11th with two birdies in the last six holes of the 7262-yard layout that puts premium on driving and putting.
“This is the best course I’ve ever played thus far,” said the 24-year-old Lane-Weston, only in his sixth PGTA tournament but who is coming off a strong joint third place effort with Mondilla at Summit Point last November.
The power-hitter from Gold Coast hit 10 fairways and missed four greens but said he could’ve shot better if not for a couple flubbed birdie chances at the back.
“I didn’t hole so many putts,” said Lane-Weston, who anchored his first round 34-35 card with three birdies against a bogey at the front. He bogeyed the par-3 11th on a poor tee-shot but recovered with birdies on Nos. 13 and 18 to get into the thick of things.
“It was a good round, saving a couple of pars,” said Ababa, who ruled this event with a pair of 10-under 278s but remained wary of his chances against a slew of rivals raring to foil his bid.
“But I need to level up to win again since there are many good players around,” added Ababa.
They include Van der Valk, who has captured two titles on the PGT but remained winless on the region’s emerging circuit put up by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. with PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High as chief backers.
“I played so-so in the early going but it’s good that I was able to regain my bearing at the back,” said the 39-year-old Dutchman who has captured two titles on the PGT.
The foursome wrested a one-stroke lead over unfancied Dino Villanueva, who gunned down two birdies in his closing frontside to save a 70, while eight others submitted identical 71s in grey skies at the long 7262-yard layout that puts premium on driving and putting.