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Friday, May 24, 2024

Ababa grabs ICTSI PH Masters crown by 1

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On the outside looking in majority of the way, Jhonnel Ababa charged back with a kind of resolve that fuel big-time results, hitting three key late birdies then bucking a slip on No. 17 to edge Guido van der Valk and Joenard Rates by one with a 71 for the ICTSI Villamor Philippine Masters crown at the Villamor Golf Club on Saturday.

Ababa actually appeared headed for a runaway win after rattling off three birdies in a four-hole stretch from No. 13 to go 3-up over the erstwhile co-leaders, who succumbed to the terrors lurking all over the military layout, including its tricky greens, in a flight behind.

But the ace Davaoeno shotmaker pulled his tee-shot into the water on Villamor’s signature hole the way he did in the third round, ending up with another double-bogey and paving the way for what the huge gallery had hoped for a thriller of a finish in the P2.5 million championship.

It didn’t materialize as van der Valk and Rates flubbed their birdie bids on the 72nd hole and matched 74s, enabling Ababa to hoist the highly-contested trophy with a four-day total of three-under 285 worth P450,000.

“Despite trailing most of the way, I knew I had a chance. I told myself that I needed just two birdies at the back to gain a shot (at the crown). Eh, naka-tatlo pa,” said Ababa, who thus became the third player to win the Masters crown since the fabled event was revived in 2017 topped by Clyde Mondilla with Jerson Balasabas holding off van der Valk in sudden death the following year.

There were no Masters during the pandemic and last year.

But its return proved as riveting as ever with the outcome unclear until the final putt was drained.

Van der Valk, who missed the cut at Luisita, and Rates split the combined P465,000 second and third place prizes after posting identical 286s, while Keanu Jahns also carded a 71 for solo fourth at 287.

Reymon Jaraula matched par-72 for the second straight day and ended up fifth at 288 while Korean Min Seong Kim rallied with the day’s best 68 to clinch sixth place at 289 followed by Nilo Salahog and Fidel Concepcion, who tied for seventh at 290 after a 73 and 74, respectively.

Young Korean Hyun Ho Rho also charged home with a 69 for ninth at 291 while Marvin Dumandan, tied with Ababa after third after 54 holes, hobbled in a rare championship flight stint, limping with a 78 and tumbling to 10th at 292.

Gary Sales took low amateur honors despite a 78 as he tied for 16th with Balasabas, who shot a 72, with 296.

In the end, it was Ababa who came out on top while snapping a long spell marred by endgame meltdowns, including at the Pradera Verde Championship last year which he led in the third round, only to waver at the finish and lose by one to van der Valk.

Davao’s ace Jhonnel Ababa pulls through in a thrilling fashion.

This time, he did it in a come-from-behind fashion.

Ababa, who last won in Del Monte in 2019, stayed four strokes off Rates in the first two rounds then moved within two of the two-day leader and van der Valk after 54 holes on a course so unlike other championship layouts that feature unfamiliar terrains, steeps, and angled fairways. But Villamor proved it remains one of golf’s great theaters, bringing out the best – and the worst – from the contenders, particularly from its last line of defense.

After giving up 22 under-par scores in the first two days, the quaint military layout, noted for its narrow, well-kept fairways, thick roughs, hazards, and tricky surface, bit back in the moving day, yielding just five with van der Valk’s 75 even enabling him to net a share of the lead with Rates, who stayed on top despite a 76.

But Ababa moved into strong contention with his 74 and stayed within striking distance most of the final round until he unleashed that strong finishing kick with birdies on Nos. 13, 14 and 16.

Van der Valk surged ahead with a frontside 37 and held sway with a tap-in birdie on No. 11 off a brilliant fairway bunker shot. But bogeys on Nos. 13 and 14, coupled with Rates’ own mishap on No. 14, allowed Ababa to take control by three.

But Ababa nearly came undone with that flawed tee-shot on the par-3 17th, his “5” enabling Rates and van der Valk to pull within one again heading to the closing par-5 hole.

“After I went 3-up, sabi ko, panalo na ‘to. Pero na-kabig ko ang tee-shot ko sa 17th. Ayun at na-double (bogey) uli. Nag-5 din ako sa third round kaya wala talaga akong swerte sa hole na un,” rued Ababa.

But his fiercest rivals were also a bit unfortunate on the final hole with Van der Valk hitting the green in 2 on the unreceptive green, the ball rolling straight to the rough. His chip, however, proved short and he missed a 14-footer for birdie and a possible tie, while Rates’ birdie bid from 30 feet swerved to the left at the finish.

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