Sta. Rosa, Laguna—Jay Bayron recovered from a shaky start with a string of birdies midway through then bucked a late double bogey mishap with a clutch birdie on the tough finishing hole as he rescued a 73 and forced a four-way tie for the lead at the start of The Country Club Invitational here yesterday.
Bayron’s up-and-down round typified the elite 30-player field’s struggle on the TCC course that proved as exacting for its sheer length (7,652 yards) with the dreaded winds practically not much of a factor in the first 18 holes of the P6 million championship, the highlight event of each Philippine Golf Tour season.
While majority of the early contenders fell prey to the water-laced No. 18’s challenge, Bayron pulled off two brilliant shots against a strong gust of wind to set up a birdie putt, one of the only two feats made on the dogleg 476-yard hole, regarded as one of the best finishing holes in Asia, where bogey is a norm rather than the exception.
But it was his birdie-blast on the par-4 No. 9 that put him back in play after dropping shots on Nos. 1 and 5, saying: “It (birdie) boosted my confidence and from there I regained my touch and birdied Nos. 12 and 14.”
A bogey on the 15th and a double bogey on the next, however, stymied his charge but a solid drive on the 18th coupled with a superb rescue approach shot to within eight feet led to a birdie and a shared view of the top.
“I didn’t expect to be in the lead (share) but I hope to keep going up to the last day,” said Bayron, who with brother Rufino lost to Frankie Minoza in sudden death here in 2013.
Unlike Bayron, Jerson Balasabas failed to hurdle the last-hole test and finished with a bogey, ruining his bid for solo control.
The former Philippine Masters champion actually posted the strongest start with back-to-back birdies, including the par-5 No. 2, then fought off three bogeys (Nos. 6, 9 and 11) by dominating the two other long holes (Nos. 8 and 14) to stay ahead at one-under.
He clung on to the solo lead despite another miscue on the 16th but squandered it with that closing bogey, enabling Bayron, Guido Van der Valk and Clyde Mondilla to draw level and make it a crowded leaderboard in the early going of the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Three others matched 74s, including Jhonnel Ababa, Marvin Dumandan and Mars Pucay, who all bogeyed the 18th, while Michael Bibat missed forcing a five-way tie for the lead with a closing double-bogey, ending up with a 75 and dropping to joint eighth with Albin Engino, Sean Ramos and Rupert Zaragosa.
In a stretch, the young Ramos looked poised to upstaging the big guns with his stellar play after 11 holes that featured a couple of back-to-back birdies from Nos. 2 and 10 against a double bogey on the fifth. He stayed in the hunt despite bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16 but tumbled down with a costly triple-bogey on the 18th.