RUPERT ZARAGOSA popped up as the only player from a band of top guns that figured in a final round shootout last week to go low at the start of the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) Iloilo Golf Challenge presented by MORE Power with a five-under 65 for a one-stroke lead over Ferdie Aunzo at the Iloilo Golf and Country Club Wednesday.
Zaragosa scorched the backside of the short but demanding par-70 layout with five birdies in a stirring windup that more than made up for a shaky start of two bogeys in the first three holes.
He also dropped two strokes on the par-three No. 5 but gunned down birdies on Nos. 4, 6, 7 and 9 to draw level at the turn.
Sustaining his 280-yard driving norm, he then waxed hot with his putter in the last nine holes and got past a mix of unfancied rivals to snatch first day honors in the P2.25 million tournament capping the two-leg Visayan swing of the Philippine Golf Tour.
“I played good at Marapara so it boosted my confidence coming over here,” said Zaragosa, who closed out with a 68 to tie for second with Tony Lascuña in last week’s ICTSI Negros Occidental Golf Classic ruled by Ira Alido in come-from-behind fashion.
“Despite going 3-over after five holes, I played good and made birdies on Nos. 6, 7 and 9. Then my putting clicked at the back,” added Zaragosa, still in pursuit of a breakthrough victory after finishing tied for second at Pradera Verde in 2020.
Ferdie Aunzo, meanwhile, launched another strong start he hopes to sustain this time as the former amateur hotshot seeking to snap a long, long title spell fired five birdies against a bogey to gain solo second at 66 while Elee Bisera and Reymon Jaraula likewise bounced back from so-so showing at Marapara with a pair of 67s.
Richard Sinfuego carded a 68 for solo fifth while Dino Villanueva and Paul Echavez matched 69s as the lesser lights made quite an impact in a day of floundering fortunes for majority of the fancied bets.
“I’m in a better condition now compared to last week and my driving and short game are also better,” said Aunzo, who opted for conservative play when some went on an attack mode to fuel their respective bids.
“I played my birdies well but I miscalculated that bogey [No. 16],” added Aunzo, who wound up tied at 27th at Marapara after starting out at joint second.
Starting at the backside, Bisera, who missed the cut in his first crack at the pros last week, bucked a double-bogey mishap on No. 11 on an errant drive as he came up with a superb 60-degree wedge shot from 84 yards that bounced once and rolled into the cup for eagle on the par-four No. 12.
The former national team mainstay then rattled four birdies in the next 12 holes but missed joining Aunzo at second with a miscue on the eighth.
Unlike the diminutive but talented Zaragosa, however, Alido, along with last week’s title contenders Frankie Miñoza, Albin Engino, Bonifacio Salahog and Dutch Guido van der Valk all struggled trying to hurdle the challenges at the region’s oldest course.
Although Tony Lascuña and Zanieboy Gialon rallied with two birdies in the last 10 holes to salvage a pair of 70s, the former, whose final hole slip cost him a shot at the title at Marapara, and last year’s runaway Caliraya Springs, who also lost steam in the closing holes and bowed out of the title chase last Saturday, stayed five strokes behind Zaragosa at joint eighth with Jhonnel Ababa, Leandro Bagtas, Jay Bayron and Michael Bibat.
Van der Valk hobbled with a 71 for joint 14th with Eric Gallardo, homegrown bet Rene Menor, Lucio Osabel, Gabo Santiago, Orlan Sumcad and Sean Ramos, while Justin Quiban wavered with a 75 in his return to the Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.-organized circuit following a two-week campaign on the Asian Tour. He hit two birdies but made five bogeys while trying to get his feel around the water-laced course. Other three-over par scorers at joint 25th are Jerson Balasabas, Rico Depilo, Jonas Magcalayo, Gabriel Manotoc, Engino and Alido.
Salahog also limped with a 76 for joint 39th with Anthony Fernando, Arnold Villacencio, Jeffrey Pito-oon and former Philippine Open champion Clyde Mondilla.
Alido, meanwhile, double bogeyed the tough No. 5 and failed to check a roller-coaster round of four birdies against three bogeys in the next nine holes as he dropped shots on Nos. 16 and 17 to end up with a 73 at joint 25th, eight strokes off the leader.
Miñoza, who led in the first two days at Marapara and stayed in contention up to the final round, found the Iloilo layout not to his liking, limping with a 78 marred by a triple-bogey on the par-5 No. 4 and six bogeys with only a birdie to show.
He fell to joint 50th and in danger of missing the Top 40 and ties cut.