MANILA, Philippines - Japanese Toru Nakajima produced a gutsy three-under 69 in demanding condition then watched local aces Mars Pucay and Ferdie Aunzo falter in the end to emerge the surprise leader in the P2.5 million ICTSI Wack Wack Championship at Wack Wack’s East Course in Mandaluyong yesterday.
Nakajima, who finished in the Top 10 in all three legs he had taken part in this year’s ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour, including a joint third place effort in the kickoff leg at Sherwood, birdied No. 18 from two feet to cap an impressive 34-35 card despite blustery conditions for a one-stroke lead over Pucay and Aunzo, who settled for a pair of 70s.
Pucay, who had a flawless three-under card heading to the par-4 ninth, holed out with a bogey after hitting a muddied ball on his approach shot while Aunzo, who bucked an opening bogey on No. 10 with four birdies in a nine-hole stretch from No. 14, dropped a shot on No. 7 to slip to joint second in the 72-hole event serving as the final leg of the 15-stage circuit sponsored by ICTSI.
“Tough course, tough condition,” said Nakajima, a 29-year-old Tokyo native and a childhood friend of Artemio Murakami, who hit three birdies against a bogey at the front then sandwiched his only other bogey on the 17th with birdies on Nos. 16 and 18. “Those birdies saved me in the end.”
The frontrunners complained of strong winds that blew from all over at mid-noon, forcing them to adjust their club selections.
“I was doing great, teeing off well and hitting the greens before that final hole. The mud on the ball on my second shot really got me,” said Pucay. “It’s also probably the wind, which really blew harder in the last five holes.”
Pucay, due for a win on the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., flubbed three straight birdie chances from No. 6 inside seven feet.
“I had my chances but I just couldn’t convert it,” said Pucay, the former national champion and veteran of the Asian Tour. “We’ll see in the next few days where I hope to just score red numbers for me to have a chance at winning this leg.”
Mhark Fernando, whose game somewhat took a dip after romping off with the ICTSI Riviera Classic last October, overcame a three-over card with four birdies in the last five holes at the front to salvage a one-under 71 and grab solo fourth while James Ryan Lam and Elmer Saban matched par 72 to tie Micah Shin, who missed closing in on Nakajima with a triple bogey on the par-4 seventh. The Korean, however, birdied the last two holes for a 72.
Aboitiz Invitational back-to-back winner Elmer Salvador, ICTSI Canlubang leg champion Cassius Casas, Gerald Rosales and Benjie Magada turned in similar 73s while Jay Bayron, the winner at ICTSI John Hay, Zanie Boy Gialon, Orlan Sumcad and Jun Rates stayed within striking distance despite 74s.
But Miguel Tabuena, who gained a golden chance to steal the Order of Merit crown with a third-place finish here, failed to sustain a brief rally at the back with a double-bogey on the 16th and tumbled down to joint 29th with a five-over 77.
The 19-year-old runaway winner at ICTSI Sherwood, failed to get going with three bogeys and a double bogey in a birdie-less frontside stint but seemed to have hit his stride with back-to-back birdies from No. 12, only to fall behind again with a 5 on the par-3 No. 16.
The other backers of the event are Nike Golf, Srixon, Custom Clubmakers, Pacsports, Cleveland Golf, Callaway, Ping, Mizuno, Empire Golf and Sports Shop, FootJoy, Titleist, Sharp, BMW and Gergia Energy Foods.