SANTA ROSA, Laguna – Guido Van der Valk threatened to turn what had been a furious battle into a blowout round but floundered at the finish, barely holding on to a two-stroke lead over Zanieboy Gialon with a 74 in brutal conditions in The Country Club Invitational here Thursday, Feb. 9.
The Dutchman looked headed to surviving the toughest of tests at the TCC in three days, staying steady and in control of his game and of the field in howling winds and keeping a five-shot lead after 15 holes over his nearest pursuer. But he made a couple of what he termed as “silly mistakes” that led to two bogeys in the last three holes and enabled Gialon and a charging Lloyd Go to make a run for the coveted championship staked on every Philippine Golf Tour season.
“I’m a little bit disappointed with the end-result because I played really good for about 15 holes and then just had a couple of bad swings in the end,” rued Van der Valk, who also bogeyed the tough No. 13 for the third straight day. “A bad drive on No. 16 cost me a bogey and had a horrible shot into the water on No. 18.”
Still, he remained on top at five-over 221, two strokes clear of Gialon, who in contrast, closed out with a flourish, birdying two of the last five holes to match Van der Valk’s two-over card for a 223 and stay from where he stood at after 36 holes of the P6 million championship.
Despite Van der Valk’s faltering windup, Gialon remained impressed with the former’s game and poise, particularly after he fell by as many as seven with a bogey on No. 11.
“Parang ang dali ng golf sa kanya (golf seems to come easily to him),” said Gialon, who birdied the first hole to pull within one off Van der Valk, then, like Clyde Mondilla and majority of the contenders, reeled back with flawed shots and flubbed putts until he regained his touch and rhythm in the last five holes.
That moved Van der Valk, a two-leg winner of last year’s seven-leg PGT, 18 holes away from matching Angelo Que’s back-to-back title feat after the latter edged Mondilla by one in 2020. Que, who shares three titles each with Juvic Pagunsan, broke through in 2007 then swept the 2010 and 2011 editions of the event held in honor of ICTSI founder Don Pocholo Razon.
Gialon muffed birdie chances from close range on Nos. 2 and 7 and made a wet triple-bogey on No. 5 and bogeyed Nos. 9 and 11 before birdies on the 14th and 17th saved what could’ve been a total disaster for the runaway winner of last year’s Caliraya Springs Championship of the Philippine Golf Tour.
“After that triple bogey, I stayed focused and finally hit my stride at the back,” said Gialon, adding that driving and short game will be key to his title drive.
Despite Van der Valk’s shaky finish, he still overshadowed Go’s surge in moving day after the Cebuano ace posted a tournament-best one-under 71 to jump from 16th to solo third at 225 for a spot in the championship group and a shot at the princely P2 million top purse in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc
“This is first time ever I shot under-par on this course. I’m very happy. It’s really my goal – to shoot under-par at least once this week,” said Go, who birdied No. 7, two-putted for another birdie on the 10th but three-putted No. 15 for a 35-36.
Though down by four, Go remained hopeful of his chances but stressed the need to sustain his long game, saying: “I need to hit the fairways to be able to play good out there and to score. It’s very hard to hit the greens from the bunkers, from the rough, so focus is on hitting the fairways.”
For Van der Valk, putting will be key in his bid for a second straight championship.
“In the end, 2-over in this golf course with this wind is okay. Still in contention to win the tournament so it’s all good. But for tomorrow (today), I need to stop making silly mistakes and keep hitting good shots because you need a lot of them in this course,” said Van der Valk. “Putting, at least, was much better and hopefully I can keep that up and then just finish better than I did today (yesterday).”
First day co-leader Jerson Balasabas missed joining Gialon at second as he wound up with a bogey on No. 16 and dropped two strokes on the 18th, ending up with a 75 to drop to joint fourth at 226 with 2004 champion Tony Lascuna, who fought back with a 73, Michael Bibat, who carded a 75, and Mondilla, who started the round just a stroke off Van der Valk but fell way behind with three straight bogeys from No. 3 that led to a 78.
The rest could be too far behind to pose a threat although no lead is safe at the TCC with Micah Shin also hobbling to the tough backside with a 39 and a 78 for a 227 while 2013 winner Frankie Minoza and Jay Bayron matched 228s after 77 and 79, respectively.
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