Elmer Saban snapped a seven-year search for a crown by ruling the P1 million ICTSI Splendido Classic in the rain yesterday, edging veteran Cassius Casas by one with a closing two-under 70 at the Splendido Golf and Country Club in Tagaytay on Friday.
The reed-thin Saban broke away from a tie with Casas with a strong start then steeled himself up at the back to withstand his fellow Davaoeno’s late charge, rolling in a pressure-packed four-foot par putt on the 18th to frustrate Casas and finally nail his breakthrough victory with an eight-under 208 total worth P200,000.
“I was so nervous when I made that putt from just around four feet since a miss would’ve given Cassius a chance in the playoff,” said Saban, 36, in Pilipino.
Saban also leaned on his short game when condition became tougher at the back due to rain, saving his lead with three scrambling pars en route to ending years of fruitless campaign since he turned pro in 2007.
Casas fell by as many as four in the early going but struck back with two birdies at the back, the last on No. 17 that moved him within one. But he overshot the par-5 18th while trying to reach it in two with a 3-wood from 220 yards and his chip shot went 24 feet past the hole and missed the putt.
He finished with a 71, settled for second at 209 and took home P120,000, his best finish on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour since snatching a victory at ICTSI Del Monte in 2010 when Juvic Pagunsan, Elmer Salvador and Richard Sinfuego were disqualified on a final hole infraction.
Dante Becierra made a good run at the back with four birdies after six holes but fumbled with bogeys on Nos. 16 and 18 that sandwiched another birdie on the 17th. He ended with a 70 for his best finish at third with a 210 worth P65,000 in the event sponsored by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Gerald Rosales also rallied with a 69 to tie Korean Hanmil Jung, who carded a 72, at fourth with 211 for P45,000 each while Benjie Magada shot the day’s best of 68 to finish tied for sixth with Rey Pagunsan and Rey Pagunsan, who both had 73s, at 212. Each received P30,000.
Micah Shin wound up ninth with a 213 after a 70 while Marvin Dumandan fired a 69 and finished tied for 10th with Miguel Tabuena (72), Tomo Yoshinaga (72), Dutch Guido Van der Valk (73) and American Samuel Cyr (75) at 214.
Saban, who had contended for a couple of titles only to fade out with final round meltdowns, birdied two of the first four holes for the second straight time, quickly building a four-stroke lead over erstwhile joint leader Casas, who parred the first three then double-bogeyed No. 4.
But a Casas birdie on No. 5 coupled with Saban’s bogey on the sixth cut the latter’s lead to two at the turn before the duo traded shot for shot and putt for putt at the back. Saban matched Casas’ birdie on the 11th before heavy rains fell then the pair parred the next five and the former refused to crack after the latter banged in an eight-footer for birdie on the 17th.