Cassius Casas checked his skid in time with a clutch two-putt birdie on No. 14 then watched Elmer Salvador flub birdie putts in the last two holes to hack out a one-stroke victory on a scrambling 70 in the P1 million ICTSI Iloilo Golf Challenge in Sta. Barbara Iloilo on Saturday.
Casas nearly lost a three-stroke lead as the ghosts of his final round meltdowns visited him again when he bogeyed two of the first three holes at the back, including on No. 12, which Salvador birdied for a two-shot swing that moved the latter within a stroke.
But the reigning The Country Club Invitational champion came through with a superb rescue second shot from 230 yards on the par-5 14th that landed 12 feet short off the cup, two-putting for birdie to preserve a two-stroke lead.
Not even a bogey on the 17th could stymie Casas’ bid to pocket the top P200,000 purse as Salvador missed a tying uphill putt from 20 feet and then misread again another birdie putt from eight feet on the final hole, enabling Casas to escape with the victory on an eight-under 272 aggregate.
“It feels good to win again. I’m really hitting well this year and I hope to win at least two or three more before the season ends,” said Casas, who topped last year’s final leg at ICTSI Wack Wack and nailed his second TCC crown but struggled in the first half of this year’s 16-leg circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
It was a sorry setback for Salvador, who went bogey-free in the last 36 holes, including a closing 68, but still came up short to add this leg to his impressive victory in the foreign-laced ICTSI Riviera Classic last May.
“While my driving and iron shots were okay, I just couldn’t putt in the last three days,” rued Salvador, who missed at least six putts from close range in the last three rounds.
“It would be tough for me to win again if I couldn’t improve on my putting,” said Salvador, who took home P120,000 on a 273 total.
Orlan Sumcad birdied No. 17 to fire a 69 and post his best finish in the season at third at 274 worth P65,000 while Arnold Villacencio, a co-leader midway through the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., sizzled with a 67 and tied Tony Lascuna, who carded a 68, at 275. Each took home P45,000.
Mhark Fernando and Rolando Marabe also shot a pair of 68s to share sixth place at 278 worth P32,500 each while Rene Menor turned in a 69 for solo eighth at 279 in the tournament backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports, Srixon, FootJoy, It’s More Fun in the Philippines, Callaway, Mizuno, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Sharp and KZG,
Benjie Magada and Jun Bernis also closed out with 68s for joint ninth with Rufino Bayron (69), Michael Bibat (69), Angelo Que (70), Ferdie Aunzo (70), Paul Vesinica (71) and Rico Depilo (71) at 280.
Casas, who missed the cut twice and blew at least two cracks at the title with final round collapses after eight legs, threatened to pull away with birdies on Nos. 2 and 4, stretching his lead to five.
But Salvador birdied No. 6, then pounced on Casas shaky backside start, including a three-putt miscue on No. 10 and a missed green bogey on the 12th, moving within one on that two-shot swing on the par-4 No. 12.
“I guess the three-shot lead I built after 54 holes and my solid start were the key. That put more pressure on them. It was free wheeling, I just played through routine pars and went for birdies when there were chances,” said Casas, now the marked man as the circuit heads to Bacolod starting Wednesday for the ICTSI Negros Occidental Classic at the Marapara layout.