TARLAC – Miguel Tabuena capped a brilliant season with a major victory, upending an elite international field with a fiery 66 windup and copping the Philippine Open presented by ICTSI tiel by one over Aussie Scott Barr for his first Asian Tour crown at the Luisita Golf and Country Club course here Sunday.
Three months after dominating the Philippine Golf Tour field to win the Central Azucarera De Tarlac Open here with a solid 22-under total, Tabuena went at it again at the par-72 layout, gunning down five birdies in the last nine holes to rally from three strokes down to the top of the heap then watched erstwhile leader Lindsay Renolds and the rest of the contenders crack trying to chase him back.
“To see my name on this trophy with so many legends is a dream come true,” said the 21-year-old Tabuena, who surged ahead in second-to-last group with three straight birdies from No. 12 then parred the last two holes to pool a 14-under 202 at the end of the weather-shortened championship sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
“I thank God for keeping me calm. I knew it would be tough and I knew people were making a charge. I set a goal to shoot anywhere between 64 and 66. When I had a one-under at the turn, I knew I had to go for more birdies, to attack smart,” said Tabuena, who pocked $54,000 (P2.5 million) for a three-day job.
His first Phl Open victory also served as a fitting ending to a banner campaign in the year about to end that saw him clinch the Order of Merit title of the local circuit where he honed his talent and skills with four victories, including the kickoff leg at Splendido.
He also reclaimed the country’s premier golf championship since absentee Angelo Que won it in 2008. Elmer Salvador and Artemio Murakami also ruled in 2009 and 2010, respectively, but against an all-Filipino field.
With Renolds reeling back early with three bogeys against a bogey in the first six holes and limping with a 73, Barr wrested control with an eagle-spike frontside 33 but fell back two miscues at the back, including a costly wet bogey on the par-3 17th that dropped him two back off Tabuena.
Needing an eagle on the par-4 to force a playoff, Barr settled for a birdie and a 68 for runner-up honors at 203 worth $33,000 in the event sponsored by the MVP Sports Foundation, Smart, PLDT, Metro Pacific, Amon Trading, Central Azucarera de Tarlac and Ayala Land, Inc. with San Miguel Corp., Suntrust Properties and Sta. Lucia as hole sponsors.
“I couldn’t hole any putts for 14 holes. Once I did, it was game on and I holed my share,” said Barr. “I did what I needed to do but it is a shame to finish one short.”
Himmat Raj of India came out of nowhere to snatch a share of third place, firing the tournament-best 63 for a 204, the same output put in by Thai Chinnarat Phadungsil, who fired a 67. Each received $16,950.
Korean Seukhyun Baek also rallied with a 66 to finish tied for fifth at 206 with Englishman Simon Griffiths, who shot a 68, and Korean Jeunghun Wang, Ireland’s Niall Turner and South African Keith Horne, who both had 69s, while Renolds double-bogeyed No. 15 and hobbled with a 73 to drop to a share of 10th at 207.
Other nine-under total scorers were Finland’s Kalle Samooja and Gaganjeet Bhullar of India, who carded identical 71s, Khalin Johsi, also of India, who turned in a 70, Korean Charlie Wi, who fired a 68, and Taiwanese Lu Wei-chih, who struck back with a 67.
Cebuano Charles Hong, who also won here at Luisita last May, emerged as the next best Filipino finisher at joint 16th at 208 after a 69 while former three-time PGT Order of Merit winner Tony Lascuña saved his best for last and shot a bogey-less 65 to salvage a share of 18th at 209.
While his more experienced rivals succumbed to final round pressure one after the other, Tabuena showed steely nerves rarely seen in a young player, gunning down back-to-back birdies from No. 4 to negate a missed green bogey on the sixth.
As Renolds fell behind with a 37 start, Barr took over with a 33 with Tabuena, who started the final round two shots off Renolds and one behind Barr, falling three back with a 35. But after birdying the 10th, Tabuena rattled off three straight birdies from No. 12 then added another on the par5 16th.
Not only did his sizzling finish stun flightmates Bhullar and Korean Giwhan Kim, but it also unsettled those in the championship flight with Renolds blowing it all with a double-bogey on No. 15 and Barr failing to survive a roller-coaster finish.