Toru Nakajima saved his best for last and buried a pressure-packed birdie putt from 10 feet in the playoff then watched Jay Bayron flub a three-footer to capture the P2.5 million ICTSI Wack Wack Championship in wire-to-wire fashion at Wack Wack’s East Course on Saturday.
It was a stirring victory for the 29-year-old Japanese, who led in the first three days but wavered in the early going of the final round, blowing a two-shot lead. But he fought back from three strokes down to salvage a 75 and tie Cassius Casas, who sputtered at the finish for a 73, and Bayron, who rallied with a 72, at 289.
Ranged against two of the country’s aces in the playoff, Nakajima didn’t flinch and matched Bayron and Casas’ solid drives on their return stint to the par-4 18th, then hacked his approach shot to within 10 feet off the pin.
Casas, who missed clinching it outright with bogeys in the last two holes, missed the target to about 20 feet while Bayron, who birdied two of the last six holes to force a three-way tie, hit his own to within three feet, sparking hopes for a follow-up to his playoff off win over Miguel Tabuena at ICTSI John Hay last April.
But as Casas’ bid fell short, Nakajima made a jaw-dropping putt that felled Bayron, who cracked under pressure and muffed what seemed to be an easy three-footer, enabling the Japanese to snatch the crown and become the first foreign player to win on the five-year circuit sponsored by ICTSI.
“I was nervous all day,” said Nakajima, a joint runner-up to Dutch Guido Van der Valk in this year’s Q-School who finished in Top 10 in all his previous three tournaments here.
“I’m just happy I sank that birdie in the playoff,” added Nakajima, who pocketed the top purse of P450,000 staked in this closing leg of the 15-stage circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Casas and Bayron took home P265,000 each from the combined second and third place prizes.
Needing a par to seal the crown in regulation, Casas missed an eight-foot par putt and blew the chance to close out the season in style after topping the last leg at ICTSI Canlubang, also via playoff over Clyde Mondilla.
Instead, he ended the season in frustration.
“I had several chances to win this but I just couldn’t convert on it,” said the 43-year-old Casas in Filipino.
Bayron also rued his missed opportunities.
His putt from the fringe on the 72nd kissed the side of the hole before rolling over and his flubbed three-foot birdie putt in the playoff proved to be the most heartbreaking, leaving the big weekend crowd frustrated and him dejected.
Mars Pucay could have joined the playoff cast if not for three missed birdie putts inside seven feet in the closing holes as he settled for a 71 and a share of fourth with Mhark Fernando and Benjie Magada, who both shot 71s, at 290. Each received P118,333.33.
Meanwhile, Tony Lascuna, currently playing with Angelo Que in the World Cup in Australia, retained the Order of Merit crown with a total earnings of P1,682,332.04, beating Tabuena (P1,477,527.19) and Elmer Salvador (P1,087,776.75).
Lascuna wound up pocketing P50,000 for the feat and another P50,000 for emerging the Top Player of the Year for most number of leg victories with two and four runner-up finishes.