Bernardino pulls ahead in heated JPGT Negros battle

BACOLOD CITY – Tiffany Bernardino clinched the upper hand in a tightly contested four-way battle at the challenging Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club course here, scraping through with an 86 to secure a one-stroke lead over Alexie Gabi at the start of the ICTSI JPGT Visayas Series 3 yesterday (Monday).

Starting at the backside of the tricky par-70 layout, Bernardino narrowly edged out Gabi, 44-45, and endured a shaky finish at the front to match Gabi’s closing 42, netting her a slight cushion in one of the most competitive age categories of the four-division series organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.

Bernardino, who bested Gabi and Rane Chiu by a single stroke in last week’s Bacolod leg of the three-stage regional series in Murcia, now leads the race for the top two spots for the national finals. But Gabi, who topped the first leg in Iloilo, stood just a stroke behind with 87, while Chiu and Louise Jalandoni posted 91 and 99, respectively.

The upcoming rounds of the 54-hole tournament are critical for the trio in their quest for the two coveted spots in the Match Play finals for the Visayas series.

Bernardino reflected on the challenges, stating, “The Marapara course was tough with very wet grass, which made it difficult to hit the ball properly.” She emphasized the importance of her chipping, saying, “Tomorrow (Tuesday) is crucial. I need to hit my target.”

Conversely, Gabi downplayed the significance of the next round, stating, “It’s not crucial because I’m just a stroke behind. I can bounce back.” She added, “Today (Monday) was tough with double pars due to poor chipping. Tomorrow’s plan is to stay focused and improve my short game.”

Chiu, who is five strokes behind, stressed the importance of the second round to her campaign, saying, “I need to work on my confidence and course management.”

Jalandoni remained in contention, finishing the backside with a 44, while Chiu posted a 47. However, Jalandoni faltered in the last nine holes, ending with a 53 for a 99, while Chiu fought back with a 44 for a 91.

In the boys’ 13-15 division, Bacolod leg winner Nyito Tiongco took the lead with an even frontside 35, capitalizing on Gabriel Handog’s double bogeys in the last two holes to pull ahead by two strokes with a 75.

Tiongco highlighted his round with a birdie on No. 14 after nearly hitting a marshal with a sliced drive, but recovered with a precise pitch into the hole. He aims to play safe, saying, “I’ll try to play safe tomorrow, hit the fairways, and putt better.”

In the premier 16-18 division, Dominique Gotiong maintained her momentum from her runaway victory in Bacolod, establishing an early 20-stroke lead with an 82 as Breanna Rojas and Rhiena Sinfuego struggled with 102 and 103, respectively.

Gotiong noted her challenges, saying, “My driving and second shots were good, but I struggled with my short game. I need to improve my chipping from 50 yards and below.”

The boys’ 16-18 race began with Del Monte’s Simon Wahing taking the lead with a closing frontside 35, finishing with a 74. He leads by three strokes over Azie Acuña IV, who scored a 77. Cody Langamin, the early leader, fell to third with a 78, followed by Bryce Lacida (79), Eddie Gonzales, Jr. (80), and Keith Pagalan (81).

Wahing, who placed second to Patrick Tambunting in Bacolod, said, “I had a rough start but made an even par in the last nine holes. I hope to maintain my form and adjust my long game.”

The girls’ 8-9 category saw a three-way tie with Ana Marie Aguilar, Aria Montelibano, and Faith Reosura all scoring 120. Anezka Golez trailed with 130. The leaders collectively said, “We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

In the youngest boys’ category, James Rolida led with a 90 after a steady backside finish of 43, overtaking Tobias Tiongko, who finished with a 93.

In the boys’ 10-12 division, Ateneo’s Race Manhit, the runaway winner in Bacolod, secured an 18-stroke lead with a 78. Rafael Alvarez and Isaac Locsin struggled with scores of 96 and 101, respectively.

“I started rough but was lucky to birdie Nos. 7, 9, and 18. My driving is okay, and my chipping and putting are on point,” said Manhit, who also turned in two runner-up finishes in the Luzon series of the 14-leg nationwide circuit sponsored by ICTSI.

Maurysse Abalos and Kelsey Bernardino, both from Saint Pedro Poveda, matched 86s in the girls’ 10-12 division, racing to a 28-shot lead over Chelsea Ogborne (114). Nikaella Salahog and Crystalie Bornales followed with 132 and 133, respectively.

Abalos expressed her strategy, saying, “I’m a little pressured but will concentrate tomorrow and not mind my opponent.”

For her part, Bernardino, 12, said, “I’ll focus on my putting tomorrow and develop strategies for the back nine, which is long and has many water hazards.”


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