Ababa, 3 others grab lead

Jhonnel Ababa
Jhonnel Ababa

Jhonnel Ababa produced the lone bogey-free 67 card in tough condition to force a four-way tie for the lead as Kim Joo Hyung fell with a thud on a disastrous windup in an eventful third round of the ICTSI Forest Hills Championship at the Nicklaus course here Friday.

Just when the chasing pack thought Kim would keep his huge four-stroke halfway lead intact with an even-par card after nine holes, the young Korean stumbled with a horrible finish that turned what had appeared to be a one-sided ending into a wild, woolly finale today.

Kim bogeyed the last three holes for a 75 and tumbled from the top of the heap to joint fifth with three others, enabling Ababa, Jobim Carlos, Thai Itthipat Buranatanyarat and American Josh Salah to wrest control at eight-under 205 heading to the final 18 holes of the $100,000 championship sponsored by ICTSI.

Ababa, out to snap a six-month slump after scoring back-to-back Philippine Golf Tour Asia victories at Eagle Ridge and Pradera Verde last January, shot two birdies on each nine in the fourth-to-last group with Carlos and preserved his bogey-free card with a couple of scrambling pars on the unreceptive putting surface.

Buranatanyarat fired four birdies against a bogey on a missed drive on No. 4 for a 68 which Carlos matched behind three birdies in the last 10 holes while first round leader Salah got back into the thick of things with a gutsy 69.

“I scored good today (yesterday) despite my poor putting,” said Buranatanyarat, seeking a second victory after ruling the PGT leg at Sherwood in 2015. “I always hit it short because of wet, slow greens although they are nice and smooth. He missed just one fairway and hit all but four greens, then vowed to go for more birdies today to fuel his title drive.

“Tomorrow (today) I’ll try to give my putting a little push and try to hit more birdies,” he added.

Carlos, meanwhile, checked an early up-and-down stint with right club selection in the last 10 holes as he zeroed in on his third crown after scoring a breakthrough at PGT Asia Riviera and topping the PGT stop at Apo three weeks ago.

“I struggled with my club selection and putting at the front but was able to settle down at the back,” said Carlos. “Tomorrow (today), I need to be patient, try to wait for (birdie) opportunity and not force the issue.”

Though he blew a big lead and dropped to joint fifth at 206, Kim still remained in the hunt for a second straight crown after upstaging the elite field at PGT Pueblo De Oro last week. And to have three others – Albin Engino, James Ryan Lam and South African Mathiam Keyser – scrapping their way back to contention only guarantees a thrilling final round battle for the top $17,500 purse in the fourth leg of the PGTA organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.

Engino bounced back from a so-so 72 Thursday with a 69, missing joining the leaders with a bogey finish, while Lam shot back into mix with two eagles and three birdies that negated his double-bogey mishap on No. 12. Like Engino, he bogeyed the difficult par-4 18th and fell of the joint lead.

Keyser, on the other hand, fought back with birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 to save a 71 and keep his shot at his maiden victory in the circuit backed by BDO, KZG, Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Sharp, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and PLDT.

The rest could be too far to pose a threat although experts believe anything can happen at Forest Hills. Keanu Jahns accounted for the other 67 in the day to move to ninth at 209, four shots off the pace, while American Nicolas Paez, winner of the PGT Del Monte two weeks ago, rebounded with a 69 for joint 10th at 210 with compatriot John Michael O’Toole and Thai Natchanon Varapornkittirat, who both carded 73s, and Elmer Salvador, who hobbled with a 74.