Power-hitting Steve Lewton moved in the threshold of a breakthrough win here, thwarting a slew of rivals with an eagle-spiked 71 to cling to a two-stroke lead in the rain-hit third round of the rich Solaire Philippine Open in Sta. Rosa, Laguna on Saturday.
A solid 5-iron second shot from 230 yards in the rain and a bending putt from 9 feet for eagle on the par-5 No. 8 spiked Lewton’s 34-37 round as he survived another punishing day at the softened The Country Club which played longer than its 7735-yardage to churn out the lone third straight under-par card for a 212 aggregate.
That was two shots clear of American Johannes Veerman, who took the challenger’s role with a 71 for a 214 while Thai Rattanon Wannasrichan matched par 72 to move to third and clinch the last spot in today’s championship flight with a 215.
“I played good under the rain,” said Lewton, now 18 holes away from becoming the first Englishman to win the country’s premier and Asia’s oldest championship sponsored by Solaire Resort and Casino. “If I shoot under-par again tomorrow (today), I will be very pleased. But you’ll never know.”
Tony Lascuña punched in a third straight 72 on another one-birdie, one-bogey output, missing closing the gap with a final-hole bogey. But the reigning Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit winner remained in the hunt for a first Philippine Open crown although he stood four shots behind Lewton at 216 heading to the final day of the $400,000 event held in cooperation with Meralco and PLDT.
“Even par but it’s okay. I still like my chances despite missing a couple of birdie putts,” said Lascuña, who also rued the downpour that slowed down his charge.
He, however, vowed to go for broke in the last 18 holes, saying “patay na kung patay sa final round.”
But a two-shot lead is nothing on a demanding and windy course as TCC, keeping at least the next four players in the heat of the battle for the top $72,000 purse.
Lewton, chasing a follow-up to his Taiwan Masters romp in 2014 Asian Tour, could’ve padded his lead to three or four but the 33-year-old shotmaker from Northampton, fell prey to the layout’s daunting finishing holes that also claimed precious strokes from some erstwhile contenders.
They included local ace Miguel Tabuena, who pressed his bid with a 34 start but faltered with an uncharacteristic 41 windup marred by a double-bogey on the par-3 17th.
Winner of the TCC Invitational three weeks ago, Tabuena bogeyed Nos. 10, 11 and 15 and dropped two strokes on No. 17 to limp with a 75. He slid to joint sixth at 218, now six shots off Lewton.
Worse was American John Catlin, who led in the first round and fell two shots behind halfway through but skied to an 83 for a 226 as he bowed out of the race for the top honors in the event backed by Pioneer Insurance, Lexus, BDO, Sharp, Custom Clubmaker, KZG, Empire Golf and Titleist.
Former Solaire Open champion Lin Wen-tang of Taiwan carded a 73 for solo fifth at 217 while Americans Brett Munson and Will Cannon fired a 71 and 73, respectively, to join Tabuena at 218.
Blake Snyder, also of the US, carded a 72 to join Frenchman Lionel Weber, who shot a 73, Thai Suradit Yongcharoenchai and Singapore’s Mitchell Slorach, who both made 74s, at ninth at 219.
Lewton actually bogeyed the opening par-4 hole for the third straight day but after a run of pars, he birdied No. 6 then eagled the eighth hole to hold sway before padding his lead to four with another birdie on No. 12.
But he bogeyed the next and dropped another shot on the closing hole, two costly strokes that could’ve given him a big cushion heading to the pressure-packed final 18 holes tomorrow (today).
Veerman, seeking a career-best win after an Asian Development Tour victory in Taiwan last year, gained on that two-shot swing on the final hole which he birdied while Wannasrichan missed joining the American at second with a bogey on No. 18.