Miguel Tabuena grabbed the lead with a 71 but lost it later on a rule infraction, enabling Prom Meesawat to regain a one-stroke edge despite a 74 heading to the final round of what could turn out to be a grudge war in the 100th Solaire Philippine Open at The Country Club in Sta. Rosa, Laguna on Friday.
American Nicolas Paez, the third man in the last flight, raised the issue after Tabuena checked a rollercoaster finish with clutch pars in the last three holes, claiming the Filipino ace hit a loose impediment (leaf) on his backswing on a bunker on the par-3 No. 11, incurring a two-stroke penalty.
Tabuena took it in stride, change the “3” entry on his scorecard to “5,” reluctantly signed a 73 and left in a huff.
“Sorry, I can’t,” said Tabuena when asked for his comment on the infraction that could proved crucial to his title bid in the record $600,000 event put up by Solarie Resort and Casino.
That enabled Meesawat to reclaim the lead at 217 after a 74 marred by two bogeys on the last four holes with Tabuena slipping to second at 218 with pars in the last three after a birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey ride from No. 12.
“It was tough today. It was windy and to finish with two-over par, I was already pleased with my round,” said Meesawat.
It also kept Guido Van der Valk in the hunt for the top $108,000 purse despite a wobbly finish of three bogeys in the last eight holes as the Dutchman pooled a 219 after a 74 in another wind-blown day at the dreaded Tom Weiskoph-designed layout.
Paez, just one behind the Thai veteran halfway through the event co-sanctioned by OneAsia and National Golf Association of the Philippines and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. made four bogeys at the back and limped with a 77, tumbling down to joint fourth with Malaysian Nicholas Fung at 221, now four shots off the pace.
Fung fired one of the three 71s with American Matthew Negri and Thai Natipong Srithong turning in the tournament-best 69s that hardly bolstered their bid in the Centennial staging of Asia’s oldest National Open.
Negri totaled a 224 in a tie with Jerson Balasabas (71), Thais Pawin Ingkhapradit (76) and Panuwat Muenlek (75), defending champion Steve Lewton (75) and Justin Quiban (73), while Srithong stood farther behind at 226 with Aussie Andrew Campbell (79), former champion Mardan Mamat (74) and local ace Angelo Que (75).
Michael Choi of Australia also carded a 71 for solo sixth at 222 while two-time PGT Asia winner Jhonnel Ababa turned in a 73 for a 223 for joint seventh with Thai Piya Swangarunporn, who hobbled with a 74.
Still, focus will be on Tabuena on how he would recover from the stigma of losing two strokes so precious in this crucial stage where every shot and putt counts.
“There was a question on whether or not Miguel caught a leaf on his backswing while he’s in the bunker. His fellow competitor (Nicolas Paez) said he did. Miguel initially said on the course, he wasn’t sure, and he felt he didn’t hit it. But the proximity of the leaf was very, very close so (local rulesman) Jack (Imperial) and myself felt that he had touched the leaf and then we penalized him under Rule 13-4 C,” said tournament director David Parkin.
While Tabuena would try to recover his bearing and rhythm for his one final assault for a second Phl Open diadem, Meesawat said his final round strategy will be the same in the first three days of the event sponsored by ICTSI, Meralco, PLDT, Smart, Bulgari, Diamond Motors Corp., BDO, Central Azucarera de Tarlac, Amon Trading, Dynamic Sports and Custom Clubmakers.
“Just enjoy try to hit fairways, hit the green, and make some putts,” said the two-time Asian Tour winner.
He maintained his pre-tournament target of 75 or better.
“You know for this course, 75 is a good score but we can try to do better. I did two-under in the first day, which was five shots better than my goal; yesterday I was one-over, today two-over but still within my goal, Tomorrow (today) I’ll try to do the same thing,” he said.