Last-hole birdie nets Lascuna 1-shot lead

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Tony Lascuña banged in a curling 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th to fire a three-under 67, outsteadying Cassius Casas and Rey Pagunsan in a day-long shootout to seize a one-stroke lead in the third round of the P5- million. The Country Club Invitational at the TCC layout in Canlubang on Saturday.

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What he lacked in power, Lascuna made up with his brilliant shotmaking, solid iron play and superb putting as the reigning back-to-back ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit winner knocked down three birdies on another hot, windy day and took his familiar role—as solo leader with a seven-under 203.

That he did that 67 without dropping a shot in challenging condition spoke well of Lascuña’s grit and spunk as he bucked Pagunsan and Casas’ power to overcome an overnight two-stroke lead and move closer to nailing a second TCC crown worth P1.5 million.

Casas, tied with Lascuna at the start of the round, caught up with Pagunsan with a stunning eagle-2 on No. 5 but went on a rollercoaster finish of two birdies and two bogeys for a 68 and missed joining Lascuna at the helm at 204.

Still, the inaugural champion in 2003 remains confident of his title chances heading to the final 18 holes of the event held in honor of ICTSI founder Enrique “Don Pocholo” Razon Sr.

“Fight tayo and I feel I have a big chance to win here again,” said Casas, who bogeyed No. 14 after missing the green but birdied two of the next three only to drop another stroke on the par-3 17th to reel back.

Casas feat enabled him to tie Pagunsan at the helm at six-under.

Lascuna made it a three-way tie with a birdie on No. 6 and took the solo lead when Casas bogeyed No. 13 and Pagunsan stumbled with bogeys on No. 9 and 11.

Pagunsan, who birdied Nos. 1,4 and 5 in the first two rounds of the event featuring the top 30 Filipino players from last year’s Order of Merit ranking, went birdie-less at the front and blew an overnight two-shot lead with a three-putt bogey on No. 9. He fumbled with another bogey on No. 11 but hit back-to-back birdies from No. 12 only to fall back with a double-bogey mishap on No. 15 on another three-putt miscue. He went for broke on the 18th and netted a birdie to salvage a 71 but dropped two strokes off Lascuna.

Still, the title-hungry Pagunsan exudes confidence to ending a long title spell not only on the premier event but also on the local circuit.

“This will be a great fight. I’m hungry for a win here,” said Pagunsan. “I just had bad breaks with two three putts.”

With the rest of the elite field too far behind, the title chase is reduced to a three-player affair with Lascuna hoping to cash in on his gameplan against two of the tour’s power-hitters.

Lady amateur Princess Superal, who surprised the field with a flawless 67 on Thursday, turned in a 71 but fell seven shots off Lascuna at 210 while Mars Pucay stood at 211 after a 72.

Rufino Bayron, who lost to Frankie Minoza in a three-man playoff last year, shot the day’s only other bogey-less round, a two-under 68 as he moved up to joint sixth at 213 in a tie with Zanie Boy Gialon, who matched par 70.

Jhonnel Ababa carded a 71 for a 214 while Michael Bibat fired a 69 to lead the 215 scorers, who included Minoza, who also matched par 70, Anthony Fernando, who made a 75, and three-time champion Angelo Que, who failed to sustain a birdie-birdie start and finished with a 72.

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