UBAO, Pampanga — Clyde Mondilla made four straight birdies in the back nine to return with a three-under par 69, a score matched by defending champion Jhonnel Ababa and two others at the start of the ICTSI Pradera Verde Classic.
The 26-year-old Mondilla caught fire coming home, setting up easy birdies from the 12th with superb iron play to catch up with the leaders.
“My iron play clicked late in the game and made birdies inside six feet,” said Mondilla, a seven-year pro from Del Monte, Bukidnon.
It was a huge turnaround for the mild-mannered Mondilla who dropped two shots in the first four holes before making his first birdie on the sixth hole.
Ababa, winner here the past two staging, also made his move coming home, stringing up three birdies from the 11th before coasting with a birdie against a bogey.
Winner of four titles last year, Ababa missed a chance to take the solo lead after failing to get up and down on the 16th for his second bogey.
“I had a fried-egg lie and could not get it close to the hall,” said the 34-year-old Davao pro who is now based in Calatagan, Batangas.
A long-time Philippine resident and a long-hitting Australian visitor kept Ababa and Mondilla company.
Guido Van Der Valk of the Netherlands, who made the Philippines his home in 2007, played the last 10 holes without a bogey while adding three birdies.
“I had a good start with a birdie and was two-under until I struggled a bit with two bogeys in the front nine,” said the 40-year-old Dutchman, who is married to a Filipina.
Van Der Valk is hoping to build momentum in his bid to get a Japanese tour card.
Jack Lane-Weston, a 26-year old pro from Gold Coast, Australia, said the course treats him well after mixing five birdies with two bogeys for a 63.
“The course suits me fine. It is in pristine condition and works well with my long game,” said Lane-Weston, who hits his driver over 370 yards.
After dropping to one-over after four holes, Lane-Weston got going with four birdies against a lone bogey the rest of the way.
“It’s the best course I’ve ever played here,” gushed Lane-Weston who is making his sixth appearance on local soil.
Nine other players took advantage of ideal conditions and receptive greens at Pradera Verde to break par.
Journeyman Dino Villanueva was in solo fifth with a 70 followed by a big group at 71 that included seven other Filipinos.
Rupert Zaragosa was the smallest of the lot at four-foot-11, but the 22-year-old former national champion made up for what he lacked in size with a big heart.
His one-under par effort was matched by Michael Bibat, John Ryan Bonaobra, Keanu Jahns, Reymon Jaraula, Jet Mathay, Elmer Salvador and Joe Knox of England.
Tour leader Antonio Lascuña opened with a one-over par 73 and rued his length off the tee, or the lack of it.
“The young boys outdrive me by up to 60 yards,” said the 49-year-old veteran who looks forward to joining the Japan senior circuit.
Frankie Miñoza, one of the country’s greatest golfers, returned to action after an absence of six months and shot a 79.
“I’m happy to break 80,” said the 60-year-old icon who made seven bogeys and a double in the first 15 holes before finishing with back-to-back birdies and a closing par.
Minoza said he was advised by doctors to take a long rest after a bout with tuberculosis.
Only the top 50 scores with ties will advance into the last two rounds.
The third season of the circuit was put up by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. with PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High as sponsors.