CANLUBANG , Philippines – Cassius Casas heralded his return to top form by ruling The Country Club Invitational-Don Pocholo Razon Memorial Tournament, beating overnight leader Tony Lascuña by one shot in a thrilling finish at the TCC layout yesterday.
Casas closed out with a one-under-par 69 to finish with a tournament-best 263, staving off the challenge of closest rival Lascuña, who wound up with a 264 after a 71.
Rey Pagunsan, the second-round leader who entered the fourth round just two strokes off the pace, crashed out of an expected three-man chase for the title after limping with a nine-over 79, his bid doomed by a horrendous 10-over stint on the par-4 No. 4.
“Nagbunga ang hard work. Talagang pinaghandaan ko ito. November pa lang nag-practice na ako sa Davao kasi kailangan kong bumalik ako sa Tour, kailangang manalo uli ako (I really worked hard to get this one. As early as November, I was already practicing seriously back home in Davao, determined to get back on the winning track in the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour),” said the 47-year-old Casas.
“May mga nagsasabi kasi na matanda na raw ako, na wala na akong chance. Ngayong bumalik na ang game ko, subukan nila (I wanted to silence my critics who are saying my best days are over. Now, my game is back),” he added.
Casas, who opened with a 71, shot the tournament-best 65 in the second and turned in an eagle-spiked 68 Saturday, later received the whopping P1.5 million prize from ICTSI chairman and CEO Ricky Razon for winning the TCC crown a second time, 11 years since dominating its inaugural staging in 2003.
One shot off entering the final round, Casas caught up with Lascuña and eventually went one-up with a birdie-birdie binge on Nos. 4 and 5. He then widened his cushion to three shots with a birdie on 13.
Not even a late birdie by Lascuña on No. 16, that moved him to within two, and his own closing bogey could stop the veteran Casas from becoming only the third player to win more than once here.
“I ran out of holes but Cassius played a solid game from start to finish,” said Lascuña, the 2004 champion who settled for runner-up honors worth P700,000.
Jhonnel Ababa fired a one-under 69 and snatched third place at 283 worth P450,000 while Zanie Boy Gialon and Mars Pucay carded a 71 and 73, respectively, to tie Rey Pagunsan, who faded with a 79, and lady amateur Princess Superal, who turned in a 74, at fourth at 284. Gialon, Pucay and Pagunsan shared the combined P765,000 purse.
Superal, the top ICTSI-backed bet and reigning SEA Games gold medalist, also ran away with the low amateur honors in the 72-hole championship staged in honor of ICTSI founder Enrique “Don Pocholo” Razon Sr.
Jay Bayron rallied with the day’s best four-under 66 to salvage joint eighth with Orlan Sumcad, who shot a 69, at 285 while last year’s champion Frankie Miñoza wound up 10th at 286 after a 71.
Anthony Fernando carded a 72 and ended up 11th at 277 while three-time winner Angelo Que failed to break par in four days and finished with a 73 for joint 12th with Rufino Bayron, who hobbled with a 75, at 288
Michael Bibat placed 14th at 289 after a 74 while Elmer Salvador, Miguel Tabuena and Mhark Fernando took the next three spots with 72-290, 74-293, and 74-294, respectively.
With Pagunsan, the halfway mark leader who started the final round just two behind Lascuña, dropping out of the title chase with a 10 on No. 4, Casas tied Lascuña with a birdie on the difficult No. 4 then took command with another birdie on the next.
Lascuña flubbed a couple of birdie chances from long range and went two down when he bogeyed the par-3 11th. With the pressure easing up a bit, Casas birdied the par-5 No. 14 for the third straight day to go three-up that proved to be the cushion to Lascuña’s late charge and his own final hole bogey mishap.