ICTSI Pradera Verde Classic: Wild finish looms as new leaders emerge

Japanese Toru Nakajima and Spain’s Marcos Pastor took charge in another day of changing fortunes, going low on a course that continued to produce big numbers, setting the stage for a thriller of a finish to the ICTSI Pradera Verde Classic in Lubao, Pampanga yesterday.

Nakajima buried delicate putts on a sleek surface he likened to the ones in Japan and came away with five birdies to turn in the first bogey-free round of 67 at Pradera Verde, jumping from 15th to a share of the lead at 212 with the late-charging Pastor, who birdied three of the last seven for a 69 and a crack at a breakthrough win in the $100,000 Philippine Golf Tour Asia event put up by ICTSI.

Toru Nakajima
Toru Nakajima

But Tony Lascuña likewise stepped up his bid in moving day, banging in a pitch-in eagle on the closing par-5 18th to spike a 69 and grab a share of third with erstwhile joint leader Joe Knox of England, who held on to the lead despite a three-birdie, three-bogey effort before settling for pars in the last two for a 72, paving the way for a new set of leaders to show the way in the penultimate leg of PGTA’s third (2019-20) season after back-to-back defending champion Jhonnel Ababa, Dutch Guido Van der Valk, Aussie Jack Lane-Weston and Clyde Mondilla wrested control Tuesday.

“The greens are fast, sloping, very much like in Japan,” said Nakajima, who became the first foreign player to win in the PGT when he humbled Cassius Casas and Jay Bayron in sudden death in Nov. 2013 at Wack Wack. He, however, struggled in the succeeding seasons then went back to Japan the last two years where he posted not-so favorable finishes.

He decided to resume his campaign here, saying: “because the golf courses are beautiful and I like it.” But he struggled with his long game in his first PGT Asia event and limped with a 75 Tuesday before settling down with a 70 and then flashing superb putting touch to birdie Nos. 1, 9, 12, 15 and 16.

“No three putts. Winds strong but didn’t bother me, I just go on and play,” added the 35-year-old shotmaker from Tokyo. “I’ll just enjoy my game and go for it if there’s an opportunity tomorrow (today) because it’s my dream (to win again).”

Pastor put himself in strong contention from joint seventh with that strong finish and hoped to sustain his charge today in a bid to finally joint the elite circle of PGTA winners.

“I played pretty well,” said the 30-year-old ace from Cordova, who considers the county his second home. “I played nine tournaments last year and got eliminated just once.”

But Lascuna and Knox stood just a stroke behind at 213, the same output put in by pint-sized Rupert Zaragosa, the most consistent among the contenders with a third straight 71, and Keanu Jahns, who shared the halfway lead with Knox, recovered from a bogey-double bogey misfortunes from No. 2 and saved a 73 to stay within striking distance at 214 with Ira Alido, who blew a two-under card after 11 holes with two bogeys in the last seven for a 72.

“I was just lucky to hole out with that eagle. Now, I feel good about my chances,” said Lascuna,

Reymon Jaraula, who scored his maiden win on the PGT at Pueblo de Oro in a playoff over Lascuna last Sept., pulled within two with a four-under card after 14 holes but bogeyed the next and settled for a 69 for joint eighth at 215, just three strokes off the new joint leaders heading to the last 18 holes of the championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. with PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High as chief backers.

Other one-under scorers were Van der Valk, who bounced back from a second round 75 with a 71, and Ababa, who bogeyed the 17th for a second straight 73, while Lane-Weston continued to flounder with a 74 and slipped to joint 11th with Rico Depilo, who matched par 72, at 216.

Mondilla, the reigning Philippine Open champion, also failed to check his slide although he fought back from a three-over card with a 73 for joint 13th with Michael Bibat, shot a 71, at 217, still in the hunt for the top $17,500 purse given the tough, windy conditions at the well-kept layout whose last line of defense is expected to spell the different between victory and defeat.