Jhonnel Ababa shrugged off erstwhile co-leader Nicolas Paez of the US with an eagle-spiked 70 but failed to shake off Tony Lascuña, who closed out with a flourish to seal a final round shootout for the ICTSI Pradera Verde Classic crown in Lubao, Pampanga.
Lascuña birdied three of the last six holes to fire a 69, pulling to within one with a 54-hole haul of 210 as Ababa hung tough with a two-under card spiked by an eagle on the par-5 12th for a 209.
That guarantees a fierce showdown not only for the crown but also for the bragging rights as the first player to win two titles on the Philippine Golf Tour Asia with Ababa going for back-to-back after a seven-stroke romp at Eagle Ridge last week.
Lascuña, on the other hand, is seeking a follow-up to his Wack Wack feat last November.
“I like my chances but it will take a lot of effort as Jhonnel is playing solid,” said Lascuña, who moved into contention after breaking a three-birdie, three-bogey game after 12 holes with birdies on Nos. 13, 16 and 17.
That late birdie flurry was Lascuña’s response to Ababa’s eagle on No. 12, a feat that kept the two-day leader and fellow Davaoeño three strokes ahead of his pursuers majority of the third round of the $100,000 event put up by ICTSI.
With Paez unable to keep pace with Ababa and Lascuña’s games and limped with a 75, the American tumbled to joint seventh with compatriot Lexus Keoninh, who shot a 70, at 214, enabling Josh Salah, also of the US, to clinch the other spot in today’s championship flight with a 212 after a 71.
Clyde Mondilla turned in a third straight 71, missing joining Salah at third with a bogey on No. 18 but staying in the hunt with a 213 in a tie with Aussie Andrew Campbell and Jay Bayron, who carded a 70 and 72, respectively, in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Korean Park Jun Sung fired a 70 for a 215 while American John Michael O’Toole rallied with a 69 to tie Frankie Miñoza, who struggled with a 73, at 10th at 216.
The rest of the surviving 52-player field stood too far behind to contend, leaving the chase for the top $17, 500 to the top two players with the Salah hoping to spoil the anticipated Ababa-Lascuña shootout and Bayron, Mondilla and Campbell seeking to unleash a strong finishing kick to get into the mix.
Ababa and Lascuña matched opening hole birdies but the former threatened to pull away after the latter stumbled with bogeys on Nos. 3 and 4 to fall four behind. But Lascuña gained on a two-shot swing (birdie-bogey) on the par-3 No. 8 and birdied the next to move within one at the turn.
But a Lascuña bogey on No. 11 coupled with Ababa’s eagle on the 12th put the latter up by four again before the former unleashed that fiery windup to turn the last 18 holes into one exciting finish in the event backed by Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Champion, Summit Mineral Water, K&G Golf Apparel, BDO, Sharp, KZG, PLDT and M.Y. Shokai Technology, Inc.