Tim Stewart finally nailed the victory that has eluded him the past 11 years — and one that nearly slipped from his clutches again by his own undoing — beating the reigning Philippine Open champion no less in sudden death to claim ICTSI Central Azucarera de Tarlac Open crown in Tarlac on Saturday.
The Australian turned what had appeared to be a trouble-free romp into a scary triumph, blowing a three-stroke lead with two holes to go with a bogey-double-bogey finish for a 72, and enabling Clyde Mondilla to force a playoff at 15-under 273 after the latter charged back with an eagle-spiked 66.
But in a sudden twist of fate, Stewart came out the victor with a routine par in their return trip to the par-4 18th and Mondilla the vanquished after barely hitting the green and flubbing a par putt from five feet that would’ve extended the match in a fitting ending to a week of uncertainties despite the former threatening to blow the field away with three straight 67s to post a huge four-stroke lead over Guido Van der Valk after 54 holes.
“Finally, I made it,” said Stewart, visibly relieved after saving himself from what could’ve been the biggest embarrassment in a pro career spanning 11 years. “This is sweet. I couldn’t ask for more.”
But the 34-year-old Stewart, who received the replica of the check worth $17,500 from ICTSI Pub-lic Relations’ Jupiter Kalambakal and Luisita club manager Jeric Hechanova, said he won’t be vying in next week’s iCTSI The Summit Point World 18 Challenge in Batangas next week for a three-week break in the US.
Stewart’s 15-under total also bettered the previous best of 14-under output put up by James Ryan Lam in ruling this event last year with the victory also erasing the stigma of a number of failed bids, including a pair of near-misses in the Luisita Championship of the PGT where he lost by two to Mondilla last year, and in the PGT Asia Manila Southwoods last July where he lost by five to Angelo Que.
Surprised by Stewart’s late meltdown, Mondilla failed to complete what could’ve been one of the most incredible comebacks in region’s booming circuit put up by ICTSI in 2017, overshooting the target in the playoff with his 8-iron approach shot from 120 yards that landed on the right edge of the green.
“I bumped it to within five feet but missed it. It’s (title) really for him,” said Mondilla, who set-tled for $11,500 runner-up prize.
Despite his foldup in regulation, Stewart picked himself up in the playoff, blasting his 50-degree wedge from 112 yards to within eight feet. Though he missed the birdie chance, he clinched the win just the same as Mondilla wobbled in the end.
Van der Valk, Stewart’s chief rival after three rounds, moved to within three with a birdie on No. 1 but the Manila-based Dutchman faded just as quickly with two bogeys in the next three holes and spent the rest of the day a virtual spectacular to the unfolding classic duel between Stewart and Mondilla.
Van der Valk, winner of PGT’s kickoff leg in Cebu, fought back with birdies on Nos. 8 and 14 and finished with a 71 for solo third at 276 while Fidel Concepcion, also from Down Under, shot a 69 for fourth at 277.
Laotian Bebe Bouahom rallied with a 67 to snare fifth place at 279 while second round co-leader Lexus Keoninh of the US matched par 72 to share sixth place at 281 with Rufino Bayron, who card-ed a second straight 71.
Justin Quiban, winner of the inaugurals of this event in 2017, also charged back with a 69 to sal-vage joint eighth at 282 with Rupert Zaragoza, who wavered with a 73, while Wang Wei-Lun col-lapsed with a 75 but still emerged the best finisher from among the 36 Taiwanese, who boosted the elite CAT Open cast, at joint 10th at 283 with former Luisita Championship winner David Gleeson (68) of Australia, and Jhonnel Ababa (70) in this sixth leg of the third season of PGTA backed by PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High.