Lam dominates CAT Open

James Ryan Lam

James Ryan Lam

James Ryan Lam started out with a flourish and ended a nine-year quest for a championship with a resounding four-stroke victory over American Josh Salah on a closing 68 to claim the CAT (Central Azucarera de Tarlac) Open crown at the Luisita Golf and Country Club here yesterday.

Lam outduelled erstwhile co-leaders Jobim Carlos and Aussie Jack Sullivan with two birdies in the first five holes then fended off the charge of a slew of rivals that kept rushing at the back with clutch pars on Luisita’s tricky surface, turning what was expected to be a tight finish into a runaway triumph in the sixth leg of the second season of Philippine Golf Tour Asia put up by ICTSI.

“I tried to take control of my game and avoid getting into trouble. That was my game plan and it paid off,” said Lam, who missed the cut in the first three legs of this year’s PGT Asia but worked on his game and turned in a fifth place finish at Forest Hills last July then placed sixth at Aboitiz last month.

He stood at joint 10th after an opening 70, gained a share of sixth with a 69 Wednesday, then joined Carlos and Sullivan at the helm with a brilliant 67 Thursday for a 72-hole total of 14-under 274 worth $17,500.

“At last I won. This is great and I couldn’t ask for more,” said the 30-year-old shotmaker, who toiled for nine years on the local circuit marked by four runner-up finishes, including one to American Nicolas Paez at PGT Del Monte last June.

He anchored his final round romp on exceptional putting, saving pars 10 times, including four straight from No. 14 that secured his long-cherished victory, and finishing with tournament-best 21 putts.

Salah hit a late eagle to fire a 70 and snatch runner-up honors at 278 worth $11,500 while Jhonnel Ababa and Ira Alido rallied with a pair of 68s to tie Carlos, who wobbled with a 73, at third with 279. Each received $5,666.

“I struggled early and failed to gather my thoughts,” said Carlos, this year’s PGT Order of Merit winner, who bogeyed two of the first five holes and never recovered. “But it was really meant for him.”

Salvador, who led in the first round of the $100,000 event sponsored by ICTSI with a 65, blew it all at the back with three bogeys, finishing with a 74 for joint sixth at 281 with last year’s champion Justin Quiban, who rallied with a 67, Charles Hong, who shot a 68, and Seung Jae Mae of the US, who carded a 70. Each took home $2,925.

American Tarik Can scored a second straight 70 for 10th at 282 while Clyde Mondilla, like Salvador, stumbled at the back with a 39 for a 74, slipping to 11th place at 283 with Thai Wisut Artjanawat (72), Keanu Jahns (72) and Michael Bibat (73).

Worse was Sullivan, who limped with a birdie-less 79, including three bogeys in the first five. He wound up in joint 18that 285 with American Andy Kang (68), Jerson Balasabas (71) and Joenard Rates (77), one stroke behind the troika of Dutch Guido Van der Valk (70), Thai Nirun Sae-ueng (73) and Aussie Tim Stewart (73), who all pooled a 284.

It was indeed a surprising ending to what had been billed a wild finish after Lam, Carlos and Sullivan forged ahead after 54 holes and Salvador stood a stroke behind, Salah and Rates lurked another shot back and a host of others lay within striking distance.

But Lam turned on the heat with a solid start, birdying two of the first five holes then watched Carlos and Sullivan crumble under pressure. Carlos, winner of PGT Asia Riviera last June, made two bogeys and Sullivan, making his first crack at a local crown, fumbled with three bogeys in the same stretch.

Rates also bombed out with a 40 but Salvador took up the challenger’s role in a flight ahead with 35 start, two behind Lam, and Ababa and Mondilla also stayed within striking distance with 34 and 35 cards.

But as the pressure mounted at the back, Lam stayed in control with a birdie-bogey-birdie start and his rivals wavered one after the other, enabling Salah to move to solo second but three strokes behind despite an eagle on No. 16.