John Michael O’Toole outgunned fellow American John Catlin and defending champion Tony Lascuña in a backside shootout to move up by two over Mathiam Keyser with a scorching finish for a 67 as the intense battle for the leadership changed hands for the third straight day in the $60,000 ICTSI Luisita Championship in Tarlac on Friday.
With halfway leader Micah Shin wilting under pressure with a poor start and a shaky windup and tumbled with a 75, O’Toole flashed hot irons and impeccable putting and birdied three of the last four holes in second-to-last flight and came out of a tight four-man tie to seize control at 12-under 204 at the Luisita Golf and County Club.
“I had no problem with my game today (yesterday). My putting was terribly good,” said O’Toole, who warded off Lascuña and Catlin’s fierce challenge with a birdie from three-feet on No. 15 before gunning down two more in the last three inside 10 feet.
In the group behind, first day co-leader Mathiam also put up a strong finishing kick, but his two birdies in the last three holes could only net him a 69 and a 206 heading to the final 18 holes of the event sponsored by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Lascuña, whose second round 67 put him alongside Mathiam, O’Toole and Brett Munson of the US, just one behind Shin, actually took charge with a 34 on birdies on Nos. 8 and 9. But while O’Toole and Keyser rebounded from 35 and 36 start, respectively, the runaway Filipino champion last year lost his putting touch in the stretch, settling for a run of pars to fall behind.
Worse, Lascuña bogeyed the par-3 17th despite hitting the green, the ball spinning back and rolling outside. He pitched, two-putted and signed for a 71, slipping to joint third at 208, four shots behind, with John Catlin of the US, who fought back with a 69.
“I missed several birdie putts. Now, I have to score a 6-under to defend my crown,” said Lascuña, who also took notice of O’Toole’s solid finish.
“He played really good and putted well,” said the reigning Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit champion who beat Korean Park Jun Hyeok by four here last year.
Jhonnel Ababa followed up his second round 68 with a 69 to move to joint sixth with Munson, who matched par 72, at 209 while Elmer Salvador birdied four of the last eight to fire a 68 and wrest solo seventh at 210, six shots behind the new leader from Pinson, Alabama.
Shin, seeking to make it two-in-row here after ruling the CAT (Central Azucarera de Tarlac) Open last September, struggled early, bogeying two of the first three holes to yield the lead. The reed-thin Korean-American did fight back with three birdies in a seven-hole stretch from No. 9 only to blow it all with a bogey-double-bogey-bogey finish.
He ended up with a 75 and fell to a share of eighth at 211 with Miguel Tabuena and Jobim Carlos, who shot identical 69s, and Japanese Toru Nakajima, who carded a second straight 70.
“I played awful. My driving, iron game and putting are not so good. I’m finished,” said a dejected Shin, who beat Lascuña by two to win the CAT Open.
Tabuena, who recovered from a poor 73 start with a 69, headed for another over-round after 11 holes but hit two birdies in the next three then eagled the par-5 16th to turn in a 36-33. The former Philippine Open champion here, however, lay too far behind O’Toole to contend for the top $10,500 purse in the event backed by BDO, KZG, Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Sharp, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and PLDT.