Dutch Guido van der Valk bucked the wind, a strong field and a two-stroke penalty for hitting a wrong ball as he put in an impressive four-under 68 to grab a two-shot lead over Keanu Jahns at the start of The Country Club (TCC) Invitational at the windy TCC course in Santa Rosa, Laguna, on Wednesday.
Van der Valk, many times a contender but never a winner in his long stint on the local circuit, flashed solid driving and iron shots and superb putting, birdying all but one of the four par-5s and added three more, including the difficult par-4 18th that highlighted his 34-34 card in blustery condition.
He completely outplayed the long-hitting Orlan Sumcad in their duel and outshone the rest of the 14 other pairs that included the cream of the local pro crop and three other foreign aces vying in the P5-million event kicking off this year’s Philippine Golf Tour (PGT), the Ladies PGT and PGT Asia.
“I played really good, almost,” said Van der Valk, ruing his double-bogey from a two-stroke penalty after accidentally hitting Sumcad’s ball from almost the same spot as his for his approach shot on the par-4 No. 15. He made a rehit and two-putted for 6.
But he made up for the miscue with that big birdie finish for a two-shot cushion that, however, could vanish in an instant given the condition at the Tom Weiskoph-designed layout with three rounds left in the P5-million event put up by International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) President and Chairman Ricky Razon in 2003 to honor the memory of his father and ICTSI Founder Don Pocholo.
“The last birdie was just a perfect way to end the day. In fact, any birdie is important, especially on a very demanding course as TCC,” said Van der Valk, who placed second to Elmer Salvador in the Philippine Open at Mount Malarayat in 2009 and last won in 2011 on the Asian Development Tour.
Jahns, a Fil-German and one of the country’s rising young stars, rode on a three-birdie feat in a five-hole stretch from No. 8 then, likewise, birdied the 18th to more than make up for his bogeys on Nos. 13 and 16 and put himself in early contention in the blue-ribbon event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments Inc.
Miguel Tabuena, who nipped absentee Juvic Pagunsan by one to claim his first TCC Invitational last year, survived a roller-coaster round of four birdies against three bogeys, claiming solo third at 71, while American Micah Shin, a former leg winner on the PGT, matched par 72 marred by a bogey on the last hole.
Jhonnel Ababa, who came into the event oozing with confidence after back-to-back victories in the PGT Asia at Eagle Ridge and Pradera Verde, failed to tame the buffeting wind although he birdied the last hole to save a 73 and tie 2004 champion Tony Lascuña, who gunned two birdies against three bogeys, at fifth.
Angelo Que blew a three-under card on an eagle on No. 8 and a birdie on the 10th with four bogeys and a double-bogey in the last eight holes in an uncharacteristic finish for a player who ruled this event three times.
He wound up with a 75 for joint seventh with Salvador, who also failed to sustain a two-under card after 12 holes with two double bogeys and a bogey in the last four holes, while Jerson Balasabas, Zanieboy Gialon, American Nicolas Paez and Sumcad all turned in 77s.
Clyde Mondilla, the reigning PGT OOM winner, also eagled No. 8 and birdied No. 14 but fumbled with five bogeys and two double bogeys, dropping him way down to 14th at 78 in a tie with Michael Bibat and Arnold Villacencio, 10 strokes off Van der Valk.
“I’m used to playing in windy conditions back home,” said the 38-year-old Lelystad, the Netherlands native, who rolled in his first five birdies inside 6 feet before drilling an 8-footer on the 18th.
Jahns, meanwhile, mixed four birdies with two bogeys in a round he described as “fantastic.”
“I went for pars as a strategy. But opportunities for birdies came by and, luckily, I made some of them,” said Jahns, who rolled in long putts from 30 feet on No. 12 and from 18 feet on No. 16.
“Everything has to work. If I can close it to make birdies, I have to be steady in putting, as well,” he said.