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Obscure pro steals thunder at Players

LIPA CITY – Dino Villanueva, who missed the cut in three of his last four events, found himself on top of the heap this time, firing a six-under 66 and grabbing a one-stroke lead over Clyde Mondilla and two other foreign aces at the start of the ICTSI Players Championship at the Summit Point Golf Club here yesterday.

Villanueva gunned down seven birdies against one bogey in near-ideal condition, capping his 32-34 card with back-to-back feats from No. 8 that shoved the unheralded shotmaker past Mondilla, Aussie Nathan Park and Dutchman Guido Van der Valk to the lead, much to his surprise and to the rest of the 75-starting field.

“I played awesome, everything was in place,” said Villanueva, who failed to advance at ICTSI Classic of the Philippine Golf Tour at Mt. Malarayat, and at the Aboitiz Invitational at Southwoods and at the ICTSI Splendido of the PGT Asia Tour.

He actually snapped that string of failed bids with a 20th place finish at ICTSI Riviera Classic ruled by Mondilla last week but the Cagayan de Oro pro never projected to be in early contention in this R3 million event sponsored by ICTSI.

But now on top of the elite field, Villanueva hopes to go all the way and end a decade-long search for a breakthrough win.

“Hopefully, this would be my time. I never won a tournament in 10 years and I hope to sustain my game in the next three days and make it for the first time,” said Villanueva, who had three tap-in birdies on Nos. 1, 9 and 14 and rescued pars three times, including a pair off the bunkers.

He hit the fairway bunker off the par-5 No. 5 tee and failed to return a six-footer for his lone bogey. He also muffed birdie putts from 10 feet on Nos. 6 and 7.

“I kind of rushed my putts and didn’t give much time to read the line,” he said.