GEN. TRIAS, Cavite – Jhonnel Ababa tamed the wind at the back and battled back from three down with a two-under 70 for a two-stroke lead going into the final 18 holes of the ICTSI Eagle Ridge Invitational yesterday at the Aoki course yesterday here.
Tied with fellow Davaoeno Elmer Salvador halfway through the $100,000 event, Ababa fell by three as the former hit three birdies in a five-hole stretch from No. 6 but the latter struck back with a third straight birdie on No. 12 then made a tap-in on the par-5 16th to draw level.
He played through the wind in the last two holes and came up with pars, including a bunker-save on the 17th, while Salvador came in ruffled by the gusts, missed the last two greens and made bogeys, enabling Ababa to seize control at 209, moving 18 holes away from snapping a long title spell and joining the elite Filipino circle of winners on the inaugural Philippine Golf Tour Asia.
“The wind was strong and blowing from all direction so I just played it through and went for pars,” said Ababa, who after an even 36 at the front birdied No. 12 for the third straight day then barely missed an eagle on the 16th.
In contrast, Salvador, after a strong start, wavered in tough condition and lost his putting touch, bogeying No. 12 then failing to recover and fumbled with those closing birdies. He turned in a second straight 72 and dropped to second at 211.
“My putting went off at the back and it was tough out there with the strong wind,” rued Salvador, who looked headed for an explosive round after birdying Nos. 6 and 10, both for the third time, that sandwiched his other birdie feat on No. 8.
Justin Quiban, who moved within two of the erstwhile leaders with a 69 Thursday, stayed within striking distance despite a run of pars after seven holes. But the recent CAT Open winner at Luisita triple-bogeyed No. 8 and limped at the back with a38, finishing with a horrible 77 to slip to joint sixth at 218 with Tony Lascuña and Thai Tommy Mansuwan, who also hobbled in exacting condition that saw only three players break par with 74 and 75, respectively.
That reduced the battle for the top $17,500 purse in the sixth leg of the PGT Asia put up by ICTSI to Ababa and Salvador as the now third-running Joenard Rates, runner-up to Quiban at Luisita, lay four strokes off Ababa at 213 after a 71.
Charles Hong and Keanu Jahns both carded 75s for joint fourth at 217 while the rest of the surviving 54-player field stood too far behind to pose a threat in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.