In a virtual repeat but with a dash of drama and dispute lacking in last year’s championship, Miguel Tabuena pulled off a memorable victory in the 100th Solaire Philippine Open on Saturday, edging Thai Prom Meesawat in sudden death to reclaim the coveted crown at The Country Club in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
Tabuena, 23, recovered from an ego-deflating third round blunder that cost him a crucial two-stroke penalty Friday, hitting clutch birdies late in regulation to force a playoff at 289 with a 71 then outduelling the veteran Meesawat, who closed out with a 72, on the first playoff hole.
The Filipino ace hit a solid drive on their return trip to TCC’s treacherous No. 18, barely missed the green then putted to within tap-in distance for par. In contrast, Meesawat drove into the fairway bunker near the big lake, hacked another shot into the greenside bunker and unlike Tabuena, he failed to get out in three off a bad lie. Making it in four, he conceded the hole, the match and the championship.
When it was over, Tabuena, the 2015 champion in the rain-shortened PH Open at Luisita, stood tall and proud, having erased the stigma of that third round miscue with a kind of resolve rarely seen in young players to win his PH Open crown in three years.
“I’ve never been mad going to the final round. I was thinking, it would’ve been different without the two-stroke penalty. It turned out it (infraction) wasn’t enough,” said Tabuena in jest.
“But that’s finished and I’m very happy to be on top,” added the 23-year-old star, who banked another $108,000 (P5.4 million) to his ever-increasing winnings.
More importantly, he kept the extra-ordinary PH Open diadem at home, this being the 100th tournament of Asia’s oldest National Open and co-sanctioned by OneAsia and the National Golf Association of the Philippines.
“I thank God and I’m really happy to put my name not only once but twice on this trophy, especially this being the Open’s 100th tournament,” said Tabuena. “It will surely boost my confidence for next week in the European Tour in india.”
Meesawat settled for $66,000 out of the record $600,000 total fund in the blue-ribbon event presented by Solaire Resort and Casino and which served as the final leg of the inaugural Philippine Golf Tour Asia.
“Prom played his heart out and it was really good fight, it was good for us and good for the fans,” Tabuena added.
In the end, it boiled down to heart and grit, which Tabuena flaunted to the hilt.
Slipping behind Meesawat after that rule infraction, Tabuena kept pressing in the last 18 holes but instead found himself trailing even more as the Thai held sway, birdying No. 4 to go 2-up.
Still, Tabuena didn’t lose hope. In fact, he pulled within one again with a birdie on on No. 8 and after the duo bogeyed the next and birdied the 10th, the local star pulled even with a crucial birdie on the 12th.
That set the stage for a nerve-wracking finish.
In an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, neither of the two blinked as they bucked the winds and tricky pin placements by matching pars in the next three holes, holing out with bogeys on the tough No. 16 then trading pars again in the last two.
The victory likewise avenged Tabuena’s playoff loss to the Hua Hin native, a former European Tour campaigner, four years ago in the Yeangder Players Championship in Taiwan. And it extended Thailand’s frustration to win the country’s premier championship.
Guido Van der Valk, just two behind Meesawat after 54 holes, became a virtual gallery in the championship flight as he fell farther behind with bogeys in the first two holes. He did bounce back with back-to-back birdies from No. 3 but went on an up-and-down ride with two birdies against three bogeys and a run of pars to finish with a 74 for a 293 for third worth $37,800.
The rest wrapped up their respective rounds the way they opened their bids —in mediocre fashions —with Aussie Michael Choi carding a 73 to place fourth at 295 followed by dethroned champion Steve Lewton of England, who matched par 72 to tie Nicolas Paez (75), the man who raised the rule infraction that cost Tabuena two strokes Friday, at 296.
Joenard Rates emerged as the second best placed local in the event, shooting a 72 and sharing seventh spot with Malaysian Nicolas Fung, who fumbled with a 76, at 297 while Englishman Matt Killen carded a 73 to finish ninth at 298.
Justin Quiban, winner of the PGT Asia leg at Luisita, turned in a 73 and tied Thai Piya Swangarunporn, who made a 76, at 10th at 299.
Despite that third round issue that saw Meesawat and Tabuena switch places on top then swap again following the latter’s rule infraction, the country’s fabled event lived up to its hype, the title chase stretched all the way to a playoff hole, the way it was when Lewton nipped American Johannes Veerman in sudden death to rule this event here last year.
Organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., the event was sponsored by ICTSI, Meralco, PLDT, Smart, Bulgari, Diamond Motors Corp., BDO, Central Azucarera de Tarlac, Amon Trading, Dynamic Sports and Custom Clubmakers.