Paez marks big day with big Del Monte win

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A birthday cake comes as a fitting gift to Nicolas Paez, who finally nails a PGT victory at Del Monte after a string of failed bids.
A birthday cake comes as a fitting gift to Nicolas Paez, who finally nails a PGT victory at Del Monte after a string of failed bids.

MANOLO Fortich, Bukidnon – American Nicolas Paez gifted himself a big birthday present yesterday – a maiden victory no less on the Philippine Golf Tour as he captured the ICTSI Del Monte Championship by two on a closing three-under 69 here.

He outslugged Kim Joo Hyung and Tony Lascuña in a pressure-packed frontside duel then fended off a slew of rivals, including Lee Song and James Ryan Lam, at the finish to rule the P3 million championship at the Del Monte Golf Club.

Paez overcame erstwhile joint leaders Kim and Lascuna’s one-stroke edge with two birdies against a bogey at the front, including a lead-grabbing tap-in birdie on the ninth then hit three more birdies against another bogey at the back to thwart at least three other bidders for top honors in the P3 million event sponsored by ICTSI with a 10-under 278 total.

They included Lee, a joint leader in the first two days who tied Paez at nine-under overall heading to the 72nd hole. But the young Korean bogeyed the par-5 18th for the second straight day in a flight ahead and finished with a 71.

Unmindful of Lee’s final-hole mishap, Paez still went for a birdie on the 18th and buried a six-footer, his rivals and the pent-up emotions of a string of heart-break finishes on the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.

That included a joint runner-up finish at PGT Eagle Ridge last March and a so-so share of 15th place effort in last week’s Apo Invitational but the Venezuelan-American, who is married to a Filipina, worked his way into contention with two 71s and a 69 on this mountain-top course then outduelled Kim and Lascuna in the early going and warded off Lee and Lam with a kind of finish that wins big-time championships.

“I played consistently, especially at the back and it’s good I made it,” said Paez, who turned 29 yesterday and emerged the lone player to have completed a run of under-par scores in the fourth leg of the event backed by BDO, KZG, Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Sharp, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and PLDT.

“I didn’t expect to win because Kim and Tony were good. Maybe the honor is meant for me,” he added.

Lam also pulled within one with back-to-back closing birdies but the ran out of holes for a 69 although he emerged the top Filipino finisher at joint second with Lee at 280. Each received P292,500.

Lascuna, in his first serious crack at the crown this year, bounced back from a bogey on the third with a birdie on No. 6. But the former three-time Order of Merit winner bogeyed the par-5 ninth and dropped another stroke on the par-3 No. 12 while muffing a couple of birdie putts. He hobbled with a 74 and ended up tied at fourth at 282 with Lexus Keoninh, also of the US, who matched par 72.

Kim actually took solo control with birdies on Nos. 5 and 7 but the 16-year-old Riviera-based shotmaker and winner of this year’s Philippine Amateur Open succumbed to pressure and stumbled with a bogey on the eighth and dropped off the lead with a costly triple bogey off a two-stroke penalty on the ninth. He failed to recover and settled for pars before holing out with a bogey for a 75.

Kim limped to joint sixth at 283, duplicating his finish in his first pro tournament at Apo. He tied with Japanese Takahashi Keisuke, who rallied with a 68, Reymon Jaraula, who shot a 69, and last week’s Apo leg winner Jobim Carlos, who carded a 70.

“The two-stroke penalty ruined my game. But I couldn’t complain since it was my father’s fault,” rued Kim, referring to his father-caddy, who unwittingly raked the bunker after crossing it to check on the ball which actually landed outside of the bunker, meriting a two-stroke penalty on the player.

Jhonnel Ababa, winner of two PGT Asia titles last January, shot a 70 and tied PGTA Southwoods champion Jay Bayron, who matched par, and Michael Bibat, who fumbled with a 73, for 10th at 284 in the event backed by BDO, KZG, Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Sharp, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and PLDT.

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