It took Cassius Casas 11 years but the ace Davaoeño shotmaker still did it, nailing his second The Country Club Invitational in big fashion, beating reigning back-to-back Order of Merit champion Tony Lascuña in a shootout at the TCC layout with a closing one-under 69 to win by one in Canlubang on Sunday.
One behind Lascuña at the start of the day, Casas made back-to-back birdies from No. 4 to seize control then pounced on the erstwhile leader’s early backside meltdown before bucking a shaky finish to escape with the victory on a 72-hole aggregate of seven-under 273.
“It’s been a long time but it’s nice to win again here. It took me 11 years to reclaim this crown,” said Casas, who ruled the inaugural staging of this top-level event in his peak in 2003 but failed to contend again after going on a slump coupled with the rise of a slew of young guns.
This time, however, Casas proved he still got what it takes to win the big one.
“I really prepared hard for this tournament. I trained a lot to bring back my game. It’s all hard work,” said Casas, after receiving the huge trophy and the top prize worth P1.5 million from ICTSI chair and CEO Ricky Razon during awards rites.
Not even a late birdie by Lascuña on No. 16, that moved him to within two, and his own closing bogey could stop the veteran Casas from becoming only the third player to win more than once here.
“I ran out of holes but Cassius played a solid game from start to finish,” said Lascuña, the 2004 champion who settled for runner-up honors after fumbling with his first over-par card of 71 for a 274 total. He took home P700,000.
Jhonnel Ababa fired a one-under 69 and snatched third place at 283 worth P450,000 while Zanie Boy GIalon and Mars Pucay carded a 71 and 73, respectively, to tie Rey Pagunsan, who faded with a 79, and lady amateur Princess Superal, who turned in a 74, at fourth at 284. Gialon, Pucay and Pagunsan shared the combined P765,000 purse.
Superal, the top ICTSI-backed bet and reigning SEA Games gold medalist, also ran away with the low amateur honors in the 72-hole championship staged in honor of ICTSI founder Enrique “Don Pocholo” Razon Sr.
Jay Bayron rallied with the day’s best four-under 66 to salvage joint eight with Orlan Sumcad, who shot a 69, at 285 while last year’s champion Frankie Miñoza wound up 10th at 286 after a 71.
Anthony Fernando carded a 72 and ended up 11th at 277 while three-time winner Angelo Que failed to break par in four days and finished with a 73 for joint 12th with Rufino Bayron, who hobbled with a 75, at 288.
Michael Bibat placed 14th at 289 after a 74 while Elmer Salvador, Miguel Tabuena and Mhark Fernando took the next three spots with 72-290, 74-293, and 74-294, respectively.
With Pagunsan, the halfway mark leader who started the final round just two behind Lascuna, dropping out of the title chase with a 10 on No. 4, Casas tied Lascuña with a birdie on the difficult No. 4 then took command with another birdie on the next.
Lascuña flubbed a couple of birdie chances from long range and went two down when he bogeyed the par-3 11th. With the pressure easing up a bit, Casas birdied the par-5 No. 14 for the third straight day to go three-up that proved to be the cushion to Lascuña’s late charge and his own final hole bogey mishap.