CANLUBANG – Canadian Richard Lee proved steadier than everybody else in the toughest day at The Country Club Sunday, hitting clutch birdies and gutsy pars to snatch the Solaire Open crown with a brilliant two-under 69 in severe condition that claimed the title bids of local aces Angelo Que and Miguel Tabuena.
Lee bucked a double-bogey mishap on the difficult par-4 No. 4 with back-to-back birdies from No. 8 and came back from four down to wrest control at the turn with a 35 as Que, who led Tabuena by one after 54 holes, bombed out early with an uncharacteristic 12 on the par-5 No. 2 after going out-of-bounds thrice for a 44 start and an 82 and Tabuena cracking up and reeling back with a string of bogeys that marred his frontside 41 for a 76.
Wang Jeung-hun, just two shots behind Que at the start of the final round of the $300,000 event sponsored by Solaire Resort and Casino, actually emerged with a best 38 score in the championship flight but the Korean ace tumbled down just the same with a 77 as Lee, in a flight ahead, sustained his form at the back, gunning down two birdies, including a long putt from 25 feet on No. 15, and salvaging pars in the last seven holes for that 69.
Lee finished with a seven-under 277 and nipped Thai Chawalit Plaphol by one to pocket the top $54,000 purse that had been up for grabs in a long stretch of the final round where at least 10 players took a crack at it.
In the end, Lee emerged the bewildered winner with Plaphol missing forcing a playoff with a par on the 72nd hole. The Thai carded a 70 for a 286 and took the runner-up purse worth $33,000.
“The wind was strong and it’s a challenging golf course. This is the strongest wind I’ve ever played in my life but despite the wind, I didn’t adjust my game that much,” said Lee.
“It feels great. When I made birdie No. 12, I told myself that if I can make one more birdie then I can make it happen. The 25-footer birdie on the No. 15 was a great and solid putt. I think that birdie made me win the tournament,” he added.
Spain’s Carlos Pigem fired a 69 to snatch third place at 279 and $18,900 while Japan’s Masahiro Kawamura came out of nowhere to tie for fourth at 280 with a bogey-free six-under 65. Englishman Steve Lewton shot a 67 while American Paul Peterson carded a 69 for 280s worth $12,430 each in the second leg of the Asian Tour backed backed by DMCI Homes, BDO, PLDT and Meralco.
Tabuena, who also dropped two strokes on the par-3 11th, recovered a bit with three birdies in the last five holes and salvaged a 76 to drop to joint seventh with Aussie Andrew Dodt, who turned in a 70, and Clyde Mondilla, who made a 73, at 281. Each got $7,440.
Despite his meltdown, Tabuena believes he will come out a lot better in his future Asian Tour stints.
“It is always a bad feeling when you lose it like this. I learnt a lot of things especially from Angelo (Que). He hit it out of bounds three times on the second hole but he stayed positive. I know I will learn from this experience,” said the 19-year-old shotmaker.
“It is pretty nerve wracking when you are playing in your home country, especially with the crowd. You can’t learn experience, but you have to go through it. I’m sure I will become better because of this,” said Tabuena, who rebounded with birdies on Nos. 14, 16 and 17.
Que, who actually went 2-up with a birdie on the opening hole, never recovered from that 12 as he fumbled with five bogeys and a double bogey against two birdies for an atrocious 82, his highest score as a pro. From No. 1, the three-time Asian Tour winner ended up in joint 21st with Elmer Salvador who had a 70, and Aussies Kalem Richardson, who made a 72, and Terry Pilkadaris, who shot a 74, at 286.
“I can’t take my round back. It is a lesson learnt from me. I feel bad because I had a chance to win but blew it on one hole. These things happen. That’s golf and life. All you can do is look back and see what you’ve learnt and move on. I just had one bad day. Everybody has bad days. Unfortunately for me, it is just one bad hole,” said Que.
“I had three bad shots in a row on No. 2. Unfortunately there was an OB (out of bounds) on the left. I’ve always had a hard time on that hole. I hit more out of bounds on that hole than on the fourth hole which is more difficult. It is just one hole, I will get over it,” he added.
While the wild final round on the demanding course was expected, the same could not be said of Que and Tabuena’s foldup after the top Filipino bets kept the 1-2 posts in the middle rounds.
As Que fell back early, Tabuena tried to hang tough but failed to handle the pressure and the wind that blew from all over, bogeying No. 2, dropping a stroke on the next then making four straight bogeys from No. 5.
Mondilla, also four shots off Que at the start of the final round, bogeyed No. 1 but struck back with a birdie on the next, only to falter with two more bogeys in a four-hole stretch from No. 3. He, however, kept the surging Lee in sight with a 37 at the turn and a birdie on No. 13 but bogeyed No. 15 which the Canadian birdied to stay in control.
Plaphol, who had a 36 at the turn, eagled the par-5 No. 10 for the second straight day and birdied the other par-5 No 14 but settled for pars the rest of the way and fell short of his comeback bid.
Pigem turned in a 33 at the back but ran out of holes to get a shot at the crown despite a birdie-birdie windup while Kawamura produced the lowest backside score of 31 and came back from way down in joint 35th to salvage a share of fourth with that 65.