SANTA ROSA, Laguna: Youth prevailed over experience in a survival of the fittest as Olympian Miguel Tabuena stunned veteran Juvic Pagunsan with clutch shots and putts to nail his first The Country Club-Don Pocholo Razon Memorial Cup crown at the wind-raked TCC course on Sunday.
Tabuena bounced back from a disastrous 80 in the third round and rallied from five shots down with an eagle-spiked 33 at the front in a flight ahead of the championship group. He then rebounded from a double-bogey mishap on No. 10 and a bogey on No. 15 with key putts down the stretch to card a 72 for a 301 worth P1.5 million.
He actually stood tied with Pagunsan at 13-over total and was bracing for a playoff as the latter headed to the tough par-4 18th. But after a solid drive, Pagunsan’s approach shot spun and dropped into the lake, washing away his bid for a record fourth TCC championship with a 78 and a 302.
“It’s good. It has been my dream to win this tournament,” said the 22-year-old Tabuena, who added the crown to his growing list of victories, including the Philippine Open in late 2015, while finally joining the elite circle of winners in what has long been considered as one of the country’s major championships.
He was at the scoring area when he saw Pagunsan’s ball drop but he said he was ready to slug it out with the former Asian Tour No. 1 in sudden death.
“I was always ready for a playoff. I have no problems with No. 18. I’m pretty long off the tee and the wind was coming from the right so it’s not too much of a concern,” said Tabuena, who also bucked fatigue coming off three straight tough tournaments abroad, including in last week’s Myanmar Open where he finished third.
“I felt tired playing for the fourth straight week. But it’s certainly a good confidence boost for my next tournament in Malaysia,” added Tabuena, referring to this week’s $3 million Maybank Championship.
The 38-year-old Pagunsan, who blew a five-stroke margin with a 39 start but regained it with a birdie on the 10th, actually clutched a one-shot lead with three holes to play. But the Japan PGA Tour campaigner succumbed to pressure and lost his bid for a record fourth TCC title in the wind, bogeying No. 16 then missing forcing a playoff with that final-hole bogey. He left in disgust as soon as he turned in his scorecard.
Japanese Toru Nakajima, who shot the tournament’s lone under-par 70 to wrest control in the opening round, also fought back with a closing 73 to snatch third place at 304 after erstwhile second-running Angelo Que hobbled early with a 40 and faded with an 81. He tumbled to fourth at 306.
Tony Lascuña, who also started the final round five off Pagunsan, birdied No. 2 but reeled back with a string of bogeys – four in the next five holes – then bowed out with a birdie-less 41 and an 80 and tied for fifth at 309 with Jhonnel Ababa, who also skied to an 80.
Dutch Guido Van der Valk put in a gutsy 74 and salvaged seventh place at 311 while Arnold Villacencio finished eighth at 313 after an 84 followed by Orlan Sumcad at 316 after an 81.
Cassius Casas, who won the inaugural staging of the event put up by ICTSI boss Ricky Razon in 2003 to honor the memory of his father and ICTSI founder Don Pocholo and reigned in 2014 before the TCC underwent a two-year renovation to meet the PGA standard, ended up 10th at 317 after a 76.
Five behind Pagunsan, Tabuena worked his way up with a birdie on No. 4 and an eagle on the par-5 eighth on a solid drive and a 7-iron second shot that landed 20 feet off the cup which he made for that 33. But just as he found his name on top of the leaderboard after Pagunsan made the turn at 39 on a double-bogey on No. 5 and a bogey on the sixth, he drove out of bounds on No. 10 and went two-down again as Pagunsan holed out with a birdie on the par-5 hole.
But as Tabuena toughened up with gutsy pars in wicked condition in the next four holes, Pagunsan held sway despite a bogey on the 11th but lost grip of the lead and his form in the last three holes after both bogeyed the difficult par-4 15th.
“My plan for the frontnine was to get within 2 or 3 but I saw that I was one-up. I executed my plan. I knew the pins are very, very difficult so I told myself to be smart,” said Tabuena.