(STAR) By Dante Navarro - Japan’s Kodai Ichihara and Gavin Flint of Australia took different routes but produced the same results of two-under par 70s yesterday as they kept their 1-2 positions halfway through the Philippine Open at the demanding Wack Wack’s East layout.

Ichihara took advantage of the benign playing condition in the morning and rattled off five birdies in the first 10 holes from the back only to falter with a double-bogey and bogey on Nos. 5 and 7, respectively, for that 70.

Benjie Magada, tied with Flint one shot behind Ichihara at the start of the round, limped with a 76, enabling the 25-year-old Japanese to seize a four-shot clubhouse lead at 136 until Flint came charging back late afternoon with four birdies in the last six holes to save a 70 and a 137.

“It’s a nice way to finish a round,” said Flint.

Earlier, Ichihara, a first timer in the Open but on his second campaign on the Asian Tour, rued a shaky windup that saw him drop three strokes in the last five holes at the front, including a double-bogey mishap on No. 5.

“I had a comfortable lead and was five-under for the day after 14 holes but I hit a wayward drive and the ball landed on the right rough of the fairway. I overshot the green twice and two putted for double and realized how costly it can be over here,” said Ichihara, trying to become the first Japanese to win in 36 years after Hideo Sugimoto ruled the 1972 edition also here at Wack Wack.

Magada started tentatively as he three-putted No. 11, his second hole, for a double bogey en route to 39-37 card and solo ninth at 143.

“Nasira ang diskarte ko sa putting (I lost my focus on putting),” said Magada.

That sent Tony Lascuña to take the fight for the beleaguered RP side, whose main bets Juvic Pagunsan and Angelo Que failed to sustain a good start and wavered coming home.

Lascuña lost his focus coming home after a squabble with his caddie, carding a two-under 70 as he blew the chance to get closer to the pacesetters with back-to-back bogeys from No. 7. He had a 141, five shots off Ichihara.

Settling for joint fifth with Englishman Chris Rodgers and American Nam Young, Lascuña muffed at least five makeable birdie chances although it was his two closing bogeys that ruined what could’ve been a solid round for the Davaoeño shotmaker.

Ashey Hall matched compatriot’s Flint’s fiery windup with four birdies in the last five holes, putting him back into contention with a 71 for third at 139.

Lin Wen-tang, winner of last week’s Asian Tour International, also came through with an explosive finish of a four-under card in the last five holes, highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 14th for the day’s best score of five-under 67. He jumped from 27th to solo fourth with a 140, four shots adrift.

Malaysian No. 1 Danny Chia shot a second straight 71 and stood in eighth place at 142 while Que and former low amateur Jay Bayron each turned in a 71 and moved from 27th to joint 10th with 144s in a tie with Chawalit Plaphol who had a 76.

Pagunsan made an eagle-2 on the par-4 No. 12, added two birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 but fumbled with a bogey for the second straight time on the 15th for a 71. It was, however, enough to lift him to joint 13th with eight others at 145.

Defending champion Frankie Miñoza, after an uncharacteristic 76 to open a rare RP Open double bid, flashed vintage form in the early going with a three-under card after five holes at the back. But he couldn’t keep it going, dropping three strokes along the way with no birdie to show for a 72.

He made it though to the Open weekend with a 148 for a share of 40th with 11 others.

“Dalawang 66 lang yan kaya pa (Two 66s may do it),” said Miñoza, adding that he must play relaxed golf in the last two days. “This is Wack Wack, anything can happen.”

Eighteen Filipinos out of the starting field of 53 and a total of 68 players made the cut at 150, including Jhonnel Ababa, who clinched the low amateur honors with a 148 after a 77, emerging the lone amateur to advance to the final two days of the $300,000 championship.

Other RP bets who made it were Gerald Rosales (72-147), Cassius Casas (72-147), Mars Pucay (72-147), Artemio Murakami (76-147), Danny Zarate (73-148), Ebarra Quiachon (69-148), Robert Pactolerin (73-148), Elmer Salvador (71-148), Rey Pagunsan (72-149), Richard Sinfuego (74-150) and Orland Sumcad (77-150).

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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