Sta. Rosa, Laguna—Guido Van der Valk flashed superb iron game to birdie the first two par-5s then barely survived the howling wind that stymied the opening round bids of the rest at the finish, wresting a three-stroke lead over Ira Alido in The Country Club Invitational at the TCC course here yesterday.
Trading length for accuracy on a long, treacherous course, the Manila-based Dutchman unleashed a couple of solid iron plays that produced birdies on Nos. 2 (622 yards—50 feet) and 8 (588 yards—two-putts from the fringe), both par-5s. But he bogeyed the backside’s two par-3s, including the long No. 11 when the wind was at its fiercest, and the signature No. 17 on a three-putt miscue that negated his other birdie from 10 feet on No. 13.
Still, his 34-37 card stood out in hot, blustery conditions on an exacting course where bogeys are the norm rather than the exception, seizing a three-shot cushion over Alido, who fumbled with a double-bogey and three bogeys against three birdies but still grabbed second spot at 74 in the P5 million event kicking off the 2020 Philippine Golf Tour.
“You never expect to shoot under-par on this course…it’s just so long (7765 yards) and I don’t think any golf course comes close anywhere I had played, so you have to grind it out,” said the 40-year-old Van der Valk, sixth in this event ruled by absentee Kim Joo Hyung and winner of the Cebu leg, both last year.
Tony Lascuña, champion here way back in 2004, missed wresting second place with a double-bogey mishap on the water-laced 18th, long regarded as one of the toughest closing holes in Asia, dropping to joint third at 75 instead with Ferdie Aunzo, Jay Bayron, Zanieboy Gialon and Rupert Zaragosa.
Albin Engino also yielded a stroke on No. 17 while American Lexus Keoninh bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15 that typified the elite field’s struggle on the Tom Weiskoph-designed course that puts every pro’s golfing skills to ultimate test that also saw the select field make 2 or 3-club adjustments to battle the wind and tackle the long course. They wound up with identical 76s.
Frankie Miñoza, the only other former winner in the field made up of the Top 30 players in last year’s PGT Order of Merit rankings, groped with two double bogeys and a couple of bogeys against a birdie but still lay just six strokes off Van der Valk at 77 in a tie with fellow Del Monte ace Clyde Mondilla.
Winner here with a two-over total in last year’s Solaire Philippine Open, Mondilla looked headed for a strong start with two birdies against a bogey in the first seven holes. But the recent record playoff winner of the Pradera Verde Classic closed out his frontside stint with back-to-back bogeys.
He birdied the par-5 10th to stay at level par but came in ruffled by the wind, dropping strokes on Nos. 13 and 14, double-bogeying the 16th before holing out with another bogey for a 37-40.
The rest all vowed to come up with big adjustments in today’s second round in a bid to stay in the race for the top P1.5 million purse in this golfing major put up by ICTSI president/chairman Ricky Razon in 2003 to honor the memory of his father, ICTSI founder Don Pocholo.
Michael Bibat bogeyed two of the last four for a 78, the same output put in by Fidel Concepcion, Reymon Jaraula and Spain’s Marcos Pastor, while multi-titled Jhonnel Ababa also dropped three strokes in the last three holes, including a closing double-bogey, to fall to joint 16th at 79 with Art Arbole, Rufino Bayron, James Ryan Lam, Rene Menor, Gerald Rosales and Nilo Salahog.