Miguel Tabuena pulled off one of the most stirring comebacks in local golf history, battling from seven strokes down with a brilliant 66 then pouncing on South African Mathiam Keyser’s errant drive in sudden death to snatch the ICTSI Luisita Championship at the Luisita Golf and Country Club in Tarlac on Saturday.
Though Tabuena needed to churn out a spectacular bogey-free six-under card to get a shot at the crown, the $60,000 event lived up to its pre-tournament hype – the championship decided on the last shot – with Keyser, who closed out with a 71 to tie Tabuena at 277, finding the water off the 18th mound and ending up with a double-bogey.
“I’m very happy because I made it despite the odds where I trailed all throughout,” said Tabuena, who clinched the victory worth $10,500 with a routine par and whose 11-under aggregate with Keyser stood as the official record at the quaint par-72 layout, according to Luisita general manager Jeric Hechanova.
Brimming with confidence after that 66 feat, Tabuena hit his 4-wood tee shot on their second trip on No. 18 into the fairway then watched Keyser hook his into the water. Pressure-free, the Filipino ace hacked a wedge shot from 104 yards barely on the green then pitched and putted for par from four feet while Keyser knocked his third shot from 148 yards then three-putted from 25 feet for a double bogey.
“He’s good, he deserved the win,” said Keyser of Tabuena, who thus relived his glory days at Luisita where he ruled the CAT (Central Azucarera de Tarlac) Open and topped the rain-shortened Philippine Open, both in 2015.
Tabuena did see action here last year but withdrew in the second round with a bad back with Tony Lascuña scoring a four-shot romp over Korean Park Jun Hyeok.
Third round leader John Michael O’Toole actually padded his two-shot overnight lead with a birdie on the first hole but succumbed under pressure and double-bogeyed No. 4 while missing a couple of birdie chances for a 37. He made another 6 on the par-4 No. 10 and bogeyed the next to drop off the lead, paving the way for Tabuena, Keanu Jahns and Jhonnel Ababa’s takeover with Keyser trailing just a stroke behind. O’Toole limped with a 76 and fell to joint seventh at 280.
In one of the most rousing fightbacks in the eight-year staging of the Philippine Golf Tour, Tabuena produced one big birdie after birdie on a day the erstwhile foreign pacesetters wilt under pressure and extreme heat then after securing the lead with his sixth birdie on No. 14, the 22-year-old ace shotmaker parred the rest to finish with an 11-under overall.
Two flights behind, Keyser fought back from a one-over card with birdies on Nos. 13 and 15 but missed clinching it outright in regulation after missing the 72nd green but earned a crack at the crown with a par-putt save from six feet to save a 36-35.
Tabuena, coming of a strong joint fifth place finish in the Yeangder Heritage in Taiwan last week following an injury, actually sustained a fiery windup in the third round where he closed out with a four-under effort, spiked by an eagle on No. 16, as he turned a one-over card to a 69 but still fell seven off O’Toole.
Jahns put in a bogey-free 65 and posted a career-best solo third at 278 worth $4,200 while Ababa saved a 70 and tied Lascuña and American Brett Munson at fourth at 279. Each received $2,740.
Aussie David Gleeson shot the day’s other 65 and tied O’Toole and Americans Paul Harris and John Catlin, who fired a 68 and 72, respectively, at 280. Each got $1,507.
The event, kicking off a four-week PGT swing, was organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by BDO, KZG, Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Sharp, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and PLDT.
Next up is the ICTSI Orchard Championship on May 10 to 13 and the ICTSI Manila Southwoods Championship on May 17 to 20, both $60,000 events, while the revival of the ICTSI-Villamor Philippine Masters will be held on May 24 to 27.