RUPERT ZARAGOSA shook off a couple of frontside putting woes with a blistering backside charge for a new course-record seven-under 63 to all but leave behind a stunned field with a whopping eight-stroke lead and wrap up a first championship in the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) Iloilo Golf Challenge presented by MORE Power on Friday.
While Zaragosa remained one round away from ending a four-year search for a pro win, second-running and recent The Country Club Invitational winner Guido van der Valk had hinted at the improbability of overhauling such a huge deficit in the last 18 holes of the P2.25 million championship at the Iloilo Golf and Country Club.
“I don’t know if I have to shoot 8- or 9-under tomorrow to have a chance,” said Zaragosa, the hottest player on the Philippine Golf Tour (PGT) who also notched two victories last year.
“Even then, the way Rupert is playing, it might not be enough,” he said. “So I’ll just try to hit every shot as solid as I can and hope to hole some putts and see what happens.”
Zaragosa made things happen when things seemed to fall apart in moving day. Up by two over rookie Elee Bisera halfway through, he dropped shots after every birdie feat at the front for a 35, enabling at least seven rivals to stay in the hunt in hot conditions.
“I was shaky with my putting at first … I three-putted Nos. 3 and 5,” said Zaragosa, who birdied all the even-numbered holes but bogeyed three of the five odd-numbered ones. “But I recoved in the back nine.”
His backside run actually proved to be more than good as he birdied the first three holes then hit three more in the last five holes to spike a six-under 28 windup for a seven-under card and a 54-hole total of 14-under 196.
“The course isn’t easy at all, I was just fortunate that I got into excellent positions, especially on the greens,” said Zaragosa in downplaying his brilliant backside finish.
But he does look forward to a completing a wire-to-wire triumphant campaign in the last of the two-leg Visayan swing of the circuit put up by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments inc.
“I thought that being a four-year pro, I have sacrificed and worked hard a lot. I hope I get it tomorrow [Saturday],” said the former national champion, who lost in a five-man playoff in PGT Asia Pradera Verde leg won by Clyde Mondilla in 2020.
Van der Valk actually tied Zaragosa at the turn with a solid four-under 32, but while the latter sizzled in the last nine holes, the Manila-based Dutchman floundered, falling behind again with double bogeys on Nos. 11 and 13.
He birdied the last two holes to save a 36 but his 68 and a 204 kept him way off the runaway leader, whose 63 shattered the previous two-best 64s, including Angelo Que’s six-under feat in 2012.
With a big lead and closer to a princely P405,000 purse, Zaragosa said he would still go for conservative play.
“I won’t think about the title, I’ll just have to make those cautious shots,” he said.
“The course is pretty much perfect for Rupert,” said van der Valk, who added he could’ve pulled within striking distance if not for his two bad shots that led to double bogeys.
“Those were just terrible (golf) shots. They cost me strokes but I played really good otherwise,” said van der Valk. “I’ll make some commitments to myself in some situations and try to stop every mistake I’ve been making this week. Other than that, I’ve got no expectations for tomorrow. I’m so far behind, I’ll just try to hit some quality shots and make many birdies as I can.”
Tony Lascuña shot a 67 to move to solo third at 206, 10 strokes off Zaragosa, while Paul Echavez faltered with a 71 and slipped to fourth at 207, and Jay Bayron fired a 68 to tie Zanieboy Gialon, who also fumbled with a 71, at fifth at 208.
Michael Bibat likewise moved into contention with an eagle-spiked 32 at the front but stumbled with a triple-bogey on No. 11 and ended up with a 69 to drop to seventh at 209 while Bisera failed to recover from an error-filled frontside 42 and limped with a 76 to tumble to joint eighth with eight others at 211.
The other one-over par overall scorers were Elmer Salvador and Richard Sinfuego, who matched 68s, Dino Villanueva, Albin Engino, who put in a 69, Sean Ramos, who carded a 72, and Dino Villanueva, who hobbled with a 73.
Ira Alido, who rallied from eight shots down and nipped Lascuna by one at Marapara last week, finally hit his stride after a 73 and 76, firing a 66 but could only improve to joint 18th at 215.
Image credits: ROY DOMINGO