BACOLOD – Jay Bayron, whose late rally proved short at Binitin last week, put on a strong start this time, hitting four birdies at the front for a 66 and catching Keanu Jahns and Gerald Rosales in the lead at the start of the ICTSI Negros Occidental Classic at the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club here yesterday.
Bayron, who charged back from seven down in the final round to within two but lost by five to Justin Quiban in the Bacolod Golf Challenge last week, actually added another birdie on the 10th in windy condition but dropped a stroke on No. 14 and settled for pars the rest of the way.
But that was enough to keep the veteran campaigner from talent-rich Davao on top with the unfancied Jahns and Rosales with five others just one stroke adrift with 67s and three more another shot back with 68s.
“The greens are in good condition and I had a good run in putting,” said Bayron, hoping to sustain his form all the way to the finish for a crack at the crown and a follow-up to his PGT Asia Manila Southwoods title romp last month.
But with at least 23 others closely bunched together, the hunt for birdies in the next three days is expected to be fierce with Jahns and Rosales likewise raring to prove their worth in the P3.5 million tournament put up by ICTSI.
Jahns, one of a slew of emerging stars seeking a breakthrough win on the Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.-organized circuit, fashioned out his 31-35 card in one of the morning flights and stayed in the lead at the end of the long day at the par-70, 6197-yard Marapara layout, short by the pros’ standard but long in challenge with its tight fairways, water hazards and dog-leg holes.
While others stuck with their drivers off the mound, the 22-year-old Jahns opted for conservative play, using 3- or 4-irons and producing four quick birdies at the front. But after knocking down another on the 10th, he struggled with club selection as the wind started to blow from various directions.
“It was so quiet at the onset but it suddenly got windy in mid-morning and it affected my club selection. There were some holes that I hit it either short or over,” rued Jahns, whose best finish was third in last year’s ICTSI Luisita Championship.
Jahns also flashed superb putting, sinking a nine-footer on the second and a 12-foot downhiller on the fifth that went with his short birdie feats on Nos. 3 and 6 then highlighted his round with a birdie-blast on No. 12.
Rosales, still in search for a first victory since winning the all-Pinoy Philippine Open at Riviera in 2000, came through with a pitch-in eagle on the par-4 No. 5 then birdied the next to cap his big windup at the front.
“Club selection is crucial here. If the wind blows hard, one has to make a 2-club adjustment,” said Rosales, who knocked in his approach shot from 97 yards on the fifth hole.
Meanwhile, Juvic Pagunsan didn’t make such an impact in his first PGT event in three years, carding a one-under 69 on three birdies against a double-bogey but said he was happy just to be reunited with his peers.
“I’m happy to be back here, playing in a big tournament,” he said.
Quiban also put his bid for a second straight crown in motion with a 67, overcoming an early bogey mishap on No. 2 with birdies on Nos. 6, 11, 12 and 18. Like in his Binitin romp, which he anchored on his solid driving, the 23-year-old shotmaker continued to lean on his driver although he needed to play extra cautious on some holes to keep his ball in play.
“I hit the driver so well but there were less birdie opportunities. I also had to be careful with the dog-leg holes because a slight error would be costly,” said Quiban, who tied Zanieboy Gialon, Raymund Gonzales and Elmer Salvador at fourth.
Gialon, runaway winner of last year’s PGT Calatagan Challenge, rolled in a number of long putts to put himself in early contention, hitting six birdies, including three straight from No. 13, against three bogeys while Tolentino, a third year pro, made it to the crowded stellar leaderboard with four birdies against a bogey.
Salvador turned in the lone bogey-free round of 33-34 to likewise put himself in early contention in the P3.5 event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by BDO, KZG, Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Sharp, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and PLDT.