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American grabs lead

TARLAC – John Michael O’Toole sizzled with a bogey-free 9-under 63 and wrested a huge five-stroke lead over Thai Pasavee Lertvilai and fellow American Seungjae Maeng halfway through the PGT Asia Tour (PGTA) Qualifying School at the softened Luisita Golf and Country Club course here.

O’Toole sustained his first round fightback from an early bogey-bogey start with four birdies at the back yesterday, including three straight from No. 12, then added another three-string feat from No. 1 and closed out with two more birdies on Nos. 6 and 9 as he took advantage of the lift, clean and place rules following heavy rains late Wednesdaythat stranded four flights.

Counting his opening 69 he produced on five birdies after back-to-back bogeys from No. 3, O’Toole took charge with a 12-under 132, leading 79 others out of the 110-player starting field from 17 countries into the final two rounds of the event which stakes 60 slots plus ties to the inaugural PGA Asia Tour.

Lertvilai also rallied with three birdies in the last four holes at the front as he fired a 67 for a 137 in a tie with Maeng, who co-led in the opener with Swede Fredrik From but slowed down with a 69 after a 68.

From also wavered with a 71 after a 68 and slid to fourth at 139 in a tie with local bet Keanu Jahns, who shot a 70, while Ira Alido turned in a 71 for joint sixth with another Swede Andreas Gronkvist, who made a 69, at 140.

Long-hitting Rey Pagunsan fought back with two birdies in the last seven holes to save a 72 as he joined Korean-American Micah Shin, who fired a 69, at 141, while Anthony Fernando matched par 72 to tie American James Bowen (70) and Korean Lee Ho Youn (71) at 10th at 142.

The top 80 resume their bid in the final two rounds with the top 60 plus ties gaining cards in the newest golf circuit in the region put up by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.

It will kick off with the PGTA Aboitiz Invitational at Southwoods on Aug. 15 where the qualifiers will be joined by the top 40 players in the current Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit ranking, led by Tony Lascuña, Clyde Mondilla, Zanieboy Gialon, Jhonnel Ababa and Miguel Tabuena.

Other local players in the hunt for PGTA slots in the circuit backed by Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Srixon, Callaway, Empire, NikeGolf, TaylorMade, Custom Clubmakers, Sharp, Omnisource Int’l., Silicon Computer and Telecoms, Inc. are Justin Quiban (72-144), Jobim Carlos (70-145), Robert Pactolerin (73-145) and Benjie Magada (74-146).