Aboitiz Invitational 2019 : Can edges Thai in playoff, claims crown

American Tarik Can banged in a par-saving putt from eight feet on the 18th then watched Thai Nirun Sae Ueng flub his own bid from a shorter distance to snare the Aboitiz Invitational 2019 crown in sudden death at Wack Wack East course yesterday.

Can failed to wrap it up with a bogey on the 72nd hole from almost the same distance for a 73, enabling Sae Ueng to force a playoff with a scrambling par from 20 feet for his own version of a one-over card as the duo finished tied at 292 after sharing second place after 54 holes.

But Can proved steadier in the end, matching Sae Ueng’s solid drive on their second trip on No. 18 in the day, hitting a superb wedge shot from the back of the green to within eight feet then sinking the putt that shattered the Thai, whose bid to send the match into another hole fizzled out after stroking it long from seven feet after a solid wedge shot from deep rough.

Tarik Can flashes the No. 1 sign after nipping Thai Nirun Sae Ueng in the playoff to claim his first PGT Asia crown in the Aboitiz Invitational
Tarik Can flashes the No. 1 sign after nipping Thai Nirun Sae Ueng in the playoff to claim his first PGT Asia crown in the Aboitiz Invitational

“I managed to get it up and down from behind the green in the playoff. It’s my first win in Asia and first in PGTA and I can’t believe I won with a four-over par total,” said Can, who highlighted his final round charge with a spectacular shot from under the trees on No. 4 to salvage par and stay in the hunt with a three-over overall card.,

He also knocked in a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 13 to surge ahead then came through with clutch pars, including another save on No. 16, to hold sway before toughening up in the playoff to clinch the victory worth $17,5000 that likewise foiled the Thai’ bid to reassert their domination of the early going of the third season of Philippine Golf Tour Asia put up by ICTSI.

Namchok Tantipokhakul topped the kickoff leg at Luisita last April while Wisut Artjanawat ruled the first PGT Asia event abroad in Taiwan last May.

As third round leader Ira Alido cracked under pressure and blew a two-stroke lead with a 39 start, Can and Sae Ueng slugged it out shot-for-shot and putt-for-putt for the lead majority of the way with a slew of players slipping in for a shared view of the top only to reel back with miscues that had become a norm rather than exception at the demanding layout.

But the American and the Thai never wavered in pursuit of the coveted crown although Can pulled it off in the end of a long, draining battle of wits and patience to crown himself the new champion of the ninth staging of the annual event sponsored by Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Inc.

Tony Lascuña, winner of this event, organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. at Riviera in 2014, forced a three-way tie for the lead at three-over overall with a birdie on No. 11, only to fall back just as quickly with bogeys in the next two. He wound up with a 73 for joint third with Thai Pasavee Lertvilai at 293.

Lertvilai rallied from five shots down to within one with a two-under card after 15 holes. But the former PGT Asia Qualifying topnotcher fell short again with a final-hole bogey in a desperate bid to close out with a birdie. He settled for a 71.

The 18-year-old Alido, who used grit and resolve to lead the elite cast with back-to-back 72s and a 73, actually tried to fight back and threatened within one with a birdie on No. 11, only to shoot himself in the foot with bogeys on Nos. 13 and 14 and went on a birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey finish to fall to solo fifth at 294 after a horrible 77.

American Joshua Salah charged back from as far as eight shots down with a four-birdie card after 13 holes but dropped out of the title race just the same with three bogeys against a birdie in the last five. He wound up with a 70 for joint sixth at 295 with Thai Kammalas Namuangruk, who fumbled with a 74.

Jhonnel Ababa, also five shots off Alido after 54 holes, birdied two of the first 10 holes to fuel his bid for another PGTA title. But the winningest player (with four victories) on the region’s emerging circuit, backed by PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High, went the way the other bidders, succumbing to the course’s challenges and bombed out with four bogeys in the last eight for a 74. He ended up joint eighth with Fil-German Keanu Jahns, Aussie Tim Stewart, Rupert Zaragosa and Reymon Jaraula.

Jahns birdied No. 2 but bogeyed four of his last 11 holes for a 75, Stewart squandered a two-under card after six holes with three straight bogeys to close out his frontside stint for a 73, while Zaragosa broke through after a pair of 77s and a 75 with a tournament-best 67 spiked by a three-birdie binge from No. 7.

Jaraula, who had stayed in contention from Day One of the $100,000 championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., birdied No. 2 to get back to within two and spark hopes of a big finish. But the Bukidnon find likewise faded with five bogeys in the last 11 holes and limped with a 76.