Pucay saves best for last, cops ICTSI TPC crown

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Mars Pucay put on a solid eagle-spiked five-under 67 to turn what was expected to be a tight finish into a cruise, running away with a four-shot romp over Jun Rates and snapping a three-year title spell by winning the P3.5 million ICTSI Tournament Players’ Championship at Southlinks Golf Club Friday.

Pucay kept the ball in play on the tight layout and kept his rivals away from his sight with a bogey-free 34 after nine holes. As erstwhile co-leaders Rates and James Ryan Lam and pursuers Rolando Marabe, Ferdie Aunzo and Elmer Saban struggled to save pars and fell behind one after the other, Pucay sustained his form at the back, birdying No. 10 to pull away.

Mars Pucay acknowledges the cheers from the gallery after holing out on No. 18 and wrapping up the P3.5 million ICTSI TPC crown at Southlinks.
Mars Pucay acknowledges the cheers from the gallery after holing out on No. 18 and wrapping up the P3.5 million ICTSI TPC crown at Southlinks.

But it was not until he buried a chip-in eagle on the par-5 No. 14 that he knew he had the elusive title – and the top P650,000 purse – under wraps in the final leg of the 16-stage circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.

“The turning point was my chip-in eagle on the 14th which gave me a five-shot lead over Rates. So I just played it safe – fairway, green and two putts,” said Pucay, whose closing 34-33 card gave him a 72-hole total of eight-under 280.

It was Pucay’s first victory since copping the ICTSI Iloilo Challenge crown in 2012 and it came at a time when the former national champion had started to lose the confidence needed to win big-time tournaments.

“I’m so happy to regain my confidence,” said Pucay, whose campaign is backed by Emcor and Mesaland. “I really wanted this win to keep it going. It feels nice to be a champ again on a different, challenging course, which suits my game.”

Rates, tied with Pucay and Lam at the helm after 54 holes, fell by one behind Pucay with a birdie on the seventh but reeled back with back-to-back bogeys from No. 8. He parred the first four holes at the back but fell five strokes off Pucay despite a birdie on the 14th.

But the diminutive winner at ICTSI John Hay made it a three-birdie binge on Nos. 15 and 16 to negate a bogey mishap on the 17th and secure second place at 284 after a 71 in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. He took home P430,000.

“I’m more than happy with his runner-up finish,” said Rates. “Mars played steady and didn’t make any mistake. I only got my rhythm at the back but ran out of holes to make any rally so I just decided to preserve my hold of second,”

Mhark Fernando bogeyed the 18th for a 70 and missed seizing solo third, dropping to joint second runner-up finish with Ferdie Aunzo and Elmer Saban, both turned identical even par 72s, at 286 in the tournament backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports Phils. Inc., Srixon, Callaway, Mizuno, Empire Golf, Footjoy, Titleist, Custom Clubmakers, Sharp, KZG and Rudy Project.

Lam, who birdied the last two holes in the third round to earn a rare spot in the championship flight, cracked under pressure and bogeyed the first two holes and hobbled with a 74, tumbling to joint sixth with Michael Bibat, who matched Pucay’s 67 with a sizzling opening five-under 31, at 287.

Dutch Guido Van der Valk also rallied with a 69 to salvage solo eighth at 289 while Rolando Marabe wavered with a 76 and slid to ninth at 290.

Japanese Yuto Katsuragawa captured the low amateur honors for the third straight leg with a closing 67 as he ended up joint 10th with Miguel Ochoa, who carded a 71, at 292.

Bracing for a shootout, Pucay recalled his fierce form with his trusted 3- and 5-wood off the mound, hitting all fairways and reaching all but two greens to underscore his determined bid to end a long slump on the circuit.

“It’s really very important to hit the fairway from the tee in this course since once you miss it, it will all be struggle. It’s a matter of minimizing your mistakes here. For four days, I just had two penalties which I think was okay given the tightness of the course,” said Pucay.

Rates kept in step with Pucay with his par-game in the first six holes and stayed just within one with a birdie on the par-3 No. 7. But he hit errant drives on the next two holes and closed out the frontside with a 37, enabling Pucay to build a three-shot cushion.

Lam never recovered from his two early bogeys as though he gunned down a birdie on the sixth, he dropped another stroke on the ninth and fell by four.

Saban, Aunzo and Marabe never gained group one flight ahead although Saban played steady with a one-under card after eight holes before bogeying No. 9 and stood three strokes adrift of Pucay.

Aunzo bowed out early with a 40 at the turn while Marabe, who moved into early contention with a bogey-free 68 in the first round, failed to get going with a bogey on the second and made the turn at 37.

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