Fiery finish thrusts Tabuena past Lascuña, Casas

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CARMONA, Cavite – Young gun Miguel Tabuena upstaged veterans Tony Lascuña and Cassius Casas with a scorching backside birdie-binge, firing a second straight six-under 66 and grabbing a one-stroke lead in a thrilling third round shootout in the P3.5 million ICTSI Pilipinas Invitational at Manila Southwoods’ Legends Course here Friday.

Miguel Tabuena watches his drive on No. 1.
Miguel Tabuena watches his drive on No. 1.

Tied with Casas and one shot behind Lascuña at the start of the round, Tabuena fumbled with an early bogey and fell by as many as four as Lascuña sizzled with a 32 at the front. But the 19-year-old shotmaker stunned his fancied rivals with a mind-boggling five-birdie splurge from No. 13 for a 31 and a 66 that thrust him into the lead of a stellar field at 15-under-par 201 after 54 holes.

Impressive at the front, Lascuña turned mediocre in the last nine holes where he settled for pars for a 68 but still stayed in the hunt for a third straight victory here at Southwoods and on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour with a 202.

Casas missed joining Lascuña at second with a missed-green bogey on the 18th, but his second 68 in the three days put him in the thick of the fight for the top P650,000 purse with a 203, guaranteeing a gripping finale in the 72-hole championship serving as the 12th leg of the 16-stage circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.

“I didn’t let my early bogey bother me,” said Tabuena, referring to his mishap on No. 5 where he failed to rescue a par from the bunker. He did bounce back with birdies on the two par-5s on Nos. 6 and 8 but it was not until he strung up five birdies in row that he found out he’s on top of the heap.

Behind solid driving and superb iron game, Tabuena, seeking to clinch the second of four P3.5 million titles after beating Elmer Salvador at ICTSI Manila Masters at Eastrdige last June, buried four birdies inside five feet and highlighted his blistering finish with a 20-footer on No. 16.

“I’ve really been working hard on my putting,” said Tabuena, adding that he’d like to be as consistent as Lascuña, who he said seldom commits bogeys.

Lascuña did finish without a bogey yesterday but after gunning four birdies at the front, the reigning back-to-back ICTSI PGT Order of Merit champion, coming off victories at ICTSI Negros Occidental and Aboitiz Invitational the last two months failed to hit any birdie at the back, even missing opportunities on the two par-5s.

“I had a good start and after I birdied No. 1 and hit three straight from No, 6, I thought I could sustain it. But I had a lipped out on No. 11 and didn’t make any birdies the rest of the way,” rued Lascuña, who nevertheless cited Tabuena’s solid game.

“He’s been playing well and he should easily regain his card on the Asian Tour,” said Lascuña, who also counts on Casas as a threat in his bid for another crown in the circuit backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports Phils. Inc., Srixon, Callaway, Mizuno, Empire Golf, Footjoy, Titleist, Custom Clubmakers, Sharp and KZG.

Like Lascuña, Casas turned in a solid start of a four-under card after 10 holes but went on a roller-coaster finish, hitting two more birdies but fumbling with two bogeys, including on the last hole that dropped him two strokes off Tabuena.

“I like my position. I think it’s better to be the hunter than being the hunted,” said Casas, winless after nailing his second The Country Club Invitational crown last February.

Club bet Anthony Fernando also moved into contention with a 66 for a 204 while Mars Pucay stood another shot back at 205 after a 68 and Clyde Mondilla and Elmer Saban pooling identical 206s after a 69 and 70, respectively.

Marvin Dumandan failed to sustain a 34 start and finished with a 71 for a 207 while Orlan Sumcad shot a 69 and tied Elmer Salvador, who carded a 71, at 10th at 208.

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