CARMONA, Cavite – Thai rookie Natipong Srithong charged back from three strokes down in the last nine holes to snatch the rich Resorts World Manila Masters crown, putting on a scorching finish to edge South African Jbe Kruger by one on a five-under 67 at the Manila Southwoods’ Masters course here Sunday.
Srithong bucked overwhelming odds just to wheel back into contention, including erstwhile leader Hung Chien-yao’s ace on No. 13, and pulled through in a nerve-wracking stretch by drilling clutch birdies, including a big two-shot swing on No. 17, before watching his rivals waver at the finish before a big gallery.
With his earlier 71, 69 and 66, Srithong pooled a 15-under 273 and pocket the top $180,000 purse in the country’s richest golf championship hosted by the Manila Southwoods.
“I kept telling myself to stay calm because in the last few tournaments on the Asian Development Tour, I got excited about being in contention but ended up not playing well in the last round,” said Srithong, who turned pro just two months ago and played here on a sponsor’s invite. “I took it one shot at a time and played at my own pace.”
A flight ahead of the championship group but three off Kruger, Srithong worked his back from a bogey mishap on No. 2 with birdies on Nos. 6, 7 and 9 then closed to within as Kruger fumbled with a double-bogey on No. 10. He tied the South African with another birdie on No. 15 then struck for the decisive birdie on No. 17 which Kruger bogeyed to wrest control.
Not even Kruger’s birdie on the 18th could force a playoff as Srithong holed out with a routine two-putt par to clinch the victory. Kruger ended up with a 71 for a 274 worth $110,000.
“I knew I had to hit an eagle to try to tie him and I nearly did it. But it showed it wasn’t meant to be,” said Kruger, adding that his final chip ran over the lip of the cup.
Hung Chien-yao, who surged ahead by one after 54 holes, fell off the leaderboard with a slew of bogeys at the front for a 39 but bounced back with a hole-in-one on No. 13 and birdies on Nos. 15 and 16, only to drop two strokes on the par-5 closing hole and lost by two with a 73 and a 275. He settled for joint third with compatriot Lee Chieh-po, who closed out with a 70.
“Hopefully I can do better next time.” said Hung, who nevertheless won a unique VIP aircraft service from Red Tail Aviation worth $250,000 for acing the 241-yard No. 13.
Angelo Que failed to sustain a fiery 66 Saturday and ended up with a 72, joining Miguel Tabuena, who shot a 70, at 18th at 280 for the Philippines’ best finish in the 72-hole championship, the fourth to last leg of this year’s Asian Tour. Each got $10,935.
“I missed some birdie putts. But that’s no excuse. I have to keep going and practice even more on the greens,” said Que, a former three-time Asian Tour winner.
He competes in Japan next week then plays in Vietnam next before heading the locals’ bid in the Philippine Open at the Luisita Golf Club in Tarlac next month.
Tabuena, meanwhile, rued his decision to attack and go for birdies though he hit four against two bogeys.
“I kind of force the issue. It’s quite hard when one is catching up,” said Tabuena, this year’s Order of Merit winner on the local circuit.
India’s Rahil Gangee and Chan Kim of the US fired identical 68s to tie Thai Prom Meesawat, who carded a 69, and Carlos Pigem of Spain, who made a 70, at fifth at 276 while Paul Peterson of the US, France’s Lionel Weber and Aussie Sam Brazel shared ninth place at 277 after a 66, 68 and 70, respectively.