DIMINUTIVE Joenard Rates traded length for accuracy and produced a tournament-best six-under 66, grabbing a two-stroke lead over Tony Lascuña and Keanu Jahns as the erstwhile frontrunners faded in the third round of the ICTSI Philippine Masters at the Villamor Golf Club.
Unable to obtain the desired result with his fairway-green approach in the first two days, Rates finally put it all together yesterday, coming away with eight birdies to negate a two-bogey mishap for a 32-34 that fueled his surge from joint 10th to the top of the heap at eight-under 208.
“I didn’t expect to lead but I focused on hitting it on the fairway and then making the most of my approach shots and birdie chances,” said the 5-3 Rates, who moved 18 holes away from snapping a three-year title spell on the Philippine Golf Tour sponsored by ICTSI.
But the very player he beat by three at John Hay in 2014 is right behind as Lascuña bucked poor putting to card a 70 and tie Jahns, who blew an impressive frontside 31 with a closing 39 for a third straight two-under card, at 210, ensuring another tight finish that has marked the last four staging of the circuit where the winner prevailed by just one with Miguel Tabuena nipping South African Mathiam Keyser in a playoff at Luisita.
Zanieboy Gialon also stayed in contention for the top $360,000 purse with a 69 as he tied American Nicolas Paez, who fired a 70, at 211, three shots adrift, while Mondilla dropped to sixth with a 73 but remained in the hunt at 212.
Aussie Nathan Park, who took charge by two halfway through the revival of one of the country’s four majors, held sway with a one-under card after 11 holes but tumbled with a bogey-double-bogey-double-bogey miscue from No. 14. He wound up with a 76 and fell to joint seventh with Jhonnel Ababa, who rallied with a 68, at 213.
First round leader Jobim Carlos continued to flounder after an opening 69 and a 72, hobbling with a 74 marred by a four-bogey mishap from No. 12, and slipped to a share of ninth with Ira Alido, who sizzled with a 67, at 214, six shots behind the new leader.
“If I can get the breaks tomorrow (today), I think I’ll have a chance,” said Rates, bracing for an uphill battle with the veteran Lascuña and the long-hitting Jahns.
He got most of them yesterday, rattling off three straight birdies from No. 2 and adding two more on Nos. 6 and 8 inside four feet to negate a bogey on No. 5 after an errant drive.
He missed four other fairways but came through with superb recovery shots in all but one of them as he salvaged pars that complemented with his three other birdies at the back, including a four-footer on the 18th off a solid bunker shot.
Lascuña actually stood four shots behind with four holes left but the reigning Order of Merit champion birdied Nos. 15 and 18 to save a 70 and get another crack at the championship after vying for all but one in the first five legs of this year’s circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
“Putting will be the key tomorrow (today),” said Lascuña.
The young Jahns, meanwhile, will also lean on his power although he hopes to polish his short game and come up with good bailout shots to finally hit paydirt after falling short by one for a playoff at Luisita despite a bogey-free 65 in the final round.
The Fil-German actually grabbed the lead with a 31 start but fumbled with a closing 39 marred by a double-bogey on the island par-3 17th, settling for a third straight 70 but still in the title hunt in the event backed by BDO, KZG, Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Sharp, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and PLDT.