Juvic Pagunsan stamped his class over Pijit Petchkasem and Angelo Que with an early burst of birdies, turning what was expected to be a wild finish into a runaway eight-shot romp in the Aboitiz Invitational at Southwoods’ Legends course here Saturday.
Tied with the Thai ace and one up on the three-time Asian Tour winner after 54 holes, Pagunsan needed just four pars to seize control in the early going then flashed his vaunted shot making and iron game to fire four birdies in the next five holes which Petchkasem and Que failed to match to virtually settle the outcome.
He wound up with a six-under 65, another bogey-free round that has marked his solid start in the $100,000 event sponsored by Aboitiz Equity Ventures, for a 72-hole aggregate of 20-under-par 264.
“It’s a nice win. I was able to string up a good game this week,” said Pagunsan, who pocketed the top $17,500 purse for his maiden victory on the Asian Development Tour, a farm league of the Asian Tour, which he dominated in 2011 by winning the coveted Order of Merit title.
It was also Pagunsan’s first victory on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour, which he was forced to skip the last two-and-a-half years after being sacked by the organizing Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. for abandoning a tournament without prior notice.
As a former Asian Tour OOM winner, Pagunsan gained a card in the lucrative Japan PGA Tour which he made as base during his suspension that saw him post seven top 10 finishes, including a runner-up finish in Mizuno Open last year.
More importantly, the Japan stint further honed his talent and skills, which he put in full display in all four days this week, spiked by a bogey-less nine-under-par 62 in the second round that put him in the lead of a tightly-fought championship co-organized by ADT and PGTI.
“I’m going back to Japan to play two more tournaments and might join the PGT leg at Wack Wack next month,” said Pagunsan, who preserved his flawless round with a chip-in par from 15 yards on the par-3 No. 12 after dumping his tee shot into the greenside bunker.
Petchkasem actually bested Pagunsan’s brilliant 36-hole performance with a third straight bogey-free round Friday that gained him a share of the lead. But the 28-year-old Thai succumbed early in a pressure-packed finale, stumbling with his first bogey on No. 2 and went on a roller-coaster ride the rest of the way.
After firing a 12-under aggregate at the front in the first three days, Petchkasem fumbled with a 38 and struggled to the finish, needing to birdie the 18th to salvage a 73 and a share of second with Que, who missed clinching solo runner-up with a bogey on the par-5 17th for a 72, and another Thai Nirun Sae-Ueng, who rallied with two birdies in the last four holes to shoot a 67 for 270s. Each got $8,033.
“I struggled with my iron game, either I came up short or overshot the green,” rued Que, who three-putted No. 17 and scrambled for par on the last hole to salvage a share of second.
Aussie Paul Donahoo gunned down four birdies in the first eight holes but tripped with a bogey and a double bogey against two birdies for a 68, dropping to a share of fifth at 271 with Zanieboy Gialon, who also carded a 68, Clyde Mondilla and Japanese Masaru Takahashi, who closed out with identical 70s. Each received $3,450.
Last year’s champion Tony Lascuña failed to sustain sizzling 31 start and settled for just one birdie at the back for a bogey-free 65, forcing a tie for ninth at 272 with Jay Bayron, who made a 69, and Americans Blake Snyder and Greg Moss, who carded a 68 and 72, respectively. Each pocketed $2,000.
After an opening 32, Pagunsan sat on a six-shot cushion as Que fumbled with a 37 and Petchkasem hobbled with 38. The backside proved to be a victory ride for the smooth-swinging former PGT OOM champion, who spiked his third bogey-less round with birdies on Nos. 13 and 15 and a couple of scrambling pars.
Flawless after 54 holes, Petchkasem parred the opening hole but cracked under pressure after missing the green on No. 2 and making his first bogey. He struck back with a birdie on the next but dropped another shot on No. 4 and reeled farther back with a double-bogey on the par-3 seventh after another birdie on the sixth and never recovered en route to a 73.
So did Que, who was expected to engage Pagunsan in a shootout on a course he calls home. But like Petchkasem, he bogeyed the second hole, birdied the next but dropped two shots on No. 4 on an errant approach shot.
Que did fight back with birdies on No. 9 and 12 but missed a couple of birdie chances and three-putted the 17th to fall to joint second with a 72.