Clark Freeport Zone—Guido van der Valk lived through a tricky backside test of will and character to churn out a plucky 68 on Thursday and take a step closer to wrapping up the Philippine Golf Tour season the way he had unfolded it.
And on a course that could yield birdies on any given hole, van der Valk hardly found the need to go for one down the stretch as he parred the last seven to piece a pair of 34s and find himself hiking his two-day, one-stroke lead to two heading to the final 18 holes of the ICTSI Mimosa Plus Championship at the Acacia course here.
Dropping to a tie with a hot-starting Michael Bibat in the early going and yielding the lead to Jhonnel Ababa midway through, the Dutchman regained control with back-to-back birdies from No. 10 and held sway at 16-under 200 through a run of pars as Bibat hobbled with a double-bogey on No. 15 and Ababa slowed down with a backside 37 after an eagle-laced 32.
Bibat birdied the par-5 16th for the third straight day and matched van der Valk’s four-under card as he remained two shots adrift of the three-day leader at 202 in a tie with Ababa, who made a 69, and Dino Villanueva, who gained in moving day with a 66 and moved from four back at fifth to within two at joint second.
Keanu Jahns birdied three of the last four holes coming off back-to-back miscues as he equaled Ababa’s course mark of 65 to seize solo fifth at 203 while Elmer Salvador also sizzled with a 66 in another steamy day and tied Nilo Salahog, who carded a 69, at 204.
That guarantees a fiery final round hunt for birdies for the top P450,000 purse among at least seven players with Rupert Zaragosa, Kristoffer Arevalo and Sean Ramos also nurturing hopes of pulling off a surprise after matching 206 totals on 67, 68 and 69, respectively.
“It will be a combination of wedge play and putting. I think that will decide who wins tomorrow (today),” said van der Valk, seeking to finally nail a regular PGT leg crown after going winless in the first nine legs following his triumphant defense of The Country Club Invitational title last February.
“Everyone is playing pretty good. But I think it’s hard to score low every single day. I was at 16-under for three days and that’s pretty good,” added van der Valk, who birdied three of the first holes and bounced from a bogey mishap on No. 7 with birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 to take command again.
He also expects the pin placements to be as difficult as in the past three days, saying: “You have to play smart and be on the right spot to get a chance for birdie. The way the pins are set, it you miss it on the wrong side, you have no chance of making the putt.”
Bibat, who put himself on the right position and birdied the first three holes to tie van der Valk at 13-under, gunned down six more birdies behind superb ball control and putting but failed to move ahead with a couple of double bogeys (Nos. 6 and 15) and a bogey on the 13th.
“It’s all about positioning to set up good birdie chances,” said Bibat, who, at 14-under, targets to reach 20-under to get a crack at the crown. “I’ll try to make as many birdies as I can tomorrow (today), especially at the backnine.”
For his part, Ababa said putting will be key in the final round even as he stressed the need to come up with a strong start. “Sa putting talaga magkakatalo dito. Unahan na lang.”
The Villamor Philippine Masters winner, just a stroke off van der Valk halfway through the P2 million event, grabbed the lead with a frontside 32 spiked by a four-foot eagle putt off a 7-iron second shot from 170 yards on No. 5.
But he bogeyed the 10th, regained the stroke on the 12th but yielded another shot on the next for a 69, enabling van der Valk to move ahead again in the championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and supported by Kampfortis Golf, the official apparel of PGTI.
Villanueva, meanwhile, hopes to duplicate his scorching start that launched his third round charge. He birdied the first five holes, bogeyed the sixth for the second straight day but birdied the ninth for the third time before picking up another stroke on No. 12.
But like van der Valk and majority of the rest, he settled for pars the rest of the way but the big-hitting journeyman hoped his 66 would serve as spark for his bid to annex the ever-elusive Tour victory.
“No expectations but I will stick to the plan – producing good score through ball-striking,” said Villanueva, who tied for 17th in the last leg in the South Pacific Classic in Davao.