Diminutive Joenard Rates emerged the surprise package in the Philippine Golf Tour restart in new normal, firing a three-under 69 to hold off a late-charging Ira Alido in the ICTSI Riviera Invitational Challenge at the Couples course in Silang, Cavite on Tuesday.
Rates brandished a near-impeccable short game to buck the heat and the wind – and the changes that marked the return of pro golf after an eight-month hiatus due to coronavirus pandemic, including playing sans a caddie and wearing face mask when not launching a shot or stroke.
“It’s tough. But we have to get used to it since it’s the new normal,” said Rates, who bucked an early bogey mishap off an errant drive on No. 4 with four birdies, including three (Nos. 4, 7 and 16) from close range set up by superb wedge shots.
“I’ve been practicing and honing my short game during the long break. Physically, I’m also prepared playing without a caddie although I did opt for a conservative game since it would only add to my concerns if I hit wayward shots if I go on an attack mode,” said Rates.
Alido, who has had close stabs at a breakthrough win last season, broke a run of pars and overcame a bogey on No. 12 with three birdies in the last six holes as he carded a 70 to get past the fancied tandem of Miguel Tabuena and Tony Lascuña and obscure Rico Depilo, who all turned in 71s.
While Rates’ early surge surprised many, Princess Superal dominated the Ladies PGT resumption as expected as the reigning OOM winner unleashed a strong start and a stronger finish to open a huge six-shot lead with a five-under 67.
The multi-titled Superal eagled the par-5 No. 2, added two birdies on Nos. 6 and 8 then checked a two-bogey, one-birdie game at the back with back-to-back closing birdies for a 32-35 round.
Rookie pro Abby Arevalo also put up a fiery start of three birdies in the first six holes but the runaway winner of the 2020 Philippine Ladies Open lost her momentum and touch and made four bogeys in the next 10 holes and ended up with a 73 in a tie with former Junior World champ Daniella Uy.
Pauline del Rosario, who reigned supreme in the LPGT in her rookie season in 2018, hardly recovered from a double-bogey start, hitting three birdies but fumbling with the same number of bogeys to lay seven strokes behind at 74.
Chanelle Avaricio, another rookie pro, eagled the 16th but had four bogeys and a double bogey to tie Chihiro Ikeda at 76 while Marvi Monsalve and four-time LPGT OOM winner Cyna Rodriguez submitted 78 and 79, respectively, and were too far off Superal in the 54-hole championship.
On a course suited for the long hitters, the 5-foot-3 Rates’ 280-yard norm off the tee proved just enough to measure him up with majority of the rest and put him in the early lead of the P2 million event, one of the two “bubble” tournaments put up by ICTSI to mark the resumption of the pro circuit late in the season under strict health and safety protocols.
“It’s still too early to say (about my chances) but I’m in a good position. I just have to stay focused and have a good rest,” said Rates, who actually nailed a big win, his second, in 2018, battling back from six down in regulation and edging Finland’s Janne Kaske in the second playoff hole to snare the PGT Asia Summit Point crown in Lipa City, Batangas.
Stamina will indeed be a major factor to one’s title bid, especially in hot conditions, as the pros had to drag their pull carts on the rolling layout, pull clubs for their first shot to the last putt by and clean them afterwards.
Rates actually stumbled with a bogey on No. 4 but picked up strokes on Nos. 5 and 7 inside six feet then flourished at the tougher backside that saw a number of big guns waver. He birdied the par-3 14th from 10 feet then drilled in a six-footer on the 16th to find himself the bewildered leader.
Dutch Guido Van der Valk, who bested the local aces to clinch The Country Club Invitational title before the pandemic outbreak last March, parred his way to joint sixth at 72 with Jay Bayron, Albin Engino, Raymund Gonzales and Rupert Zaragosa while Angelo Que blew a hot start with a faltering finish, dropping to joint 11th at 73 with Jhonnel Ababa, Michael Bibat, Justin Quiban and American Lexus Keoninh.