Micah Shin hit clutch birdies to build a three-shot cushion at the back then watched Miguel Tabuena bungle a playoff-clinching birdie putt on the 72nd hole to snare The Country Club Invitational crown on a closing one-under 71 at the TCC course in Sta. Rosa, Laguna on Saturday.
The final round lived up to the hype despite Shin’s early threat of a breakaway as Tabuena fought back from four down to threaten within one with seven holes to go before the lanky Korean-American banged in back-to-back birdies from No. 13 then made gutsy pars in the next three to nail the victory on a five-under 283 total.
Not even a final-hole bogey off a pulled approach shot into the greenside bunker could stop Shin, 21, from becoming the first non-Filipino and youngest winner of the event put up by ICTSI president and chairman Ricky Razon in 2003 as Tabuena missed forcing a playoff with a muffed birdie putt from pin-length distance.
The win, worth P1.5 million, was Shin’s third in a flourishing career. The Davao-based shotmaker scored a breakthrough in the CAT Open at Luisita in 2016 then banked P9 million in a playoff victory in an Asian Tour event at Southwoods last year.
“I’m very happy. I thank God for giving me a chance to win this,” said Shin, who considered his third round 67 as the turning point then banked on his long game to neutralize Tabuena in the final round.
Shin celebrated his big triumph sans the traditional fist-pump but pointed to the hole after a tap-in bogey following Tabuena’s miss.
“Actually, I wasn’t putting that well today (yesterday). But I still kept on playing consistently with my driver. That was my plan—to hit my driver steady and keep the ball on the fairway,” added Shin, who also thanked caddie-friend Owen Hong, whom he considers a brother.
Tabuena, who edged three-time champion Juvic Pagunsan also by one on a 13-over 301 total to claim his first TCC Invitational title last year, earlier flubbed a birdie bid from close range on No. 14 but moved within two with a birdie on the next. He, however, failed to add at least one in the last three, including that heartbreaker of a miss on the final hole. He finished with a 70 and a 284 worth P700,000.
“I played well. I knew from the start that if there’s one competitor that would actually challenge me, it would be Micah. He’s a good player and has the experience because he won an Asian Tour event last year,” said Tabuena, who also rued his shaky putting, particularly his birdie putt on No. 14 that lipped out.
Despite wicked conditions at the country’s toughest course where bogeys became a norm, Shin and Tabuena still turned in under-par rounds throughout the pressure-packed final 18 holes. While the rest succumbed in another windy day at the Tom Weiskoph-designed layout made more daunting by difficult pin placements, the duo slugged it out shot-for-shot and putt-for-putt and made the turn with even 36s.
But after he bogeyed the par-3 11th that enabled Tabuena to close in within one, Shin came through with a series of solid shots and produced decisive birdies on Nos. 13 and 14, which the Filipino ace had failed to match, including that big miss on the 14th.
Shin thus went 3-up with four holes to go and though Tabuena gunned down a birdie on No. 15, the latter failed to cash in on the former’s bunker-visit for bogey on the last hole with that missed putt.
Shin looked headed for a runaway win as he stretched his overnight two-shot lead to four with a birdie on No. 2 coupled with Tabuena’s opening hole bogey. But Tabuena battled back with birdies on Nos. 5 and 8 to pull within two again. They both bogeyed the ninth and Shin stayed 2-up heading to the backside which he tamed with a fiery 32 to wrest control with a tournament-best 67 Friday.
Dutch Guido Van der Valk took third place at 300 despite 77 worth P450,000 while 2013 champion Frankie Miñoza carded a 73 to share fourth with 2004 winner Tony Lascuña, who limped with a 75, at 302. Each received P290,000.
Jobim Carlos shot a 74 to finish sixth at 304 while Japanese Toru Nakajima also made a 74 to tie back-to-back PGT Asia winner Jhonnel Ababa, who hobbled with a 76, at seventh at 305.
Angelo Que, the only other three-time winner of the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., fired a 75 and shared ninth with Jay Bayron, who skied to a 77, at 307.