Lubao, Pampanga—Jhonnel Ababa kept his astounding streak of luck on the Philippine Golf Tour Asia, besting a horde of rivals with a solid windup to retain the ICTSI Pradera Verde Classic crown by two over Aussie David Gleeson on a closing four-under 68 here yesterday.
Ababa beat at least 10 bidders in the most fiercely fought final round clash in the two-year-old circuit, gunning down three birdies in the last five holes in hot, breezy condition, the last on No. 17 giving him a two-shot cushion over erstwhile pursuers Sam Gillis of the US and Clyde Mondilla, who had wrapped up their respective rounds ahead of the back-to-back champion and Gleeson.
“Fantastic,” said Ababa, whose 10-under 278 total that included rounds of 68-73-69 netted the diminutive former amateur hotshot his fourth championship, becoming the first player to score back-to-back victories in the region’s newest circuit put up by ICTSI worth another $17,500.
“I think I’m just lucky playing on PGT Asia. But the key was my birdie on No. 14. It didn’t only bolster my morale but more importantly, it gave me a one-stroke lead. That’s when I felt I could win again.” said Ababa, who then came through with superb approach shots on Nos. 16 and 17 that set up birdie chances from close range to seal the victory.
Ababa also scored back-to-back wins at Eagle Ridge and here to close out the circuit’s inaugural season last year then broke away from a tight final round duel with three others and beat Jobim Carlos by three to rule the PGTA second season stop at Forest Hills last July.
Gleeson, who snared the kickoff leg crown of the second PGTA at Luisita on a three-hole playoff with Erwin Arcillas last April, snatched runner-up honors with an eagle on the par-5 18th, matching Ababa’s closing four-under card for a 270. He pocketed $11,500.
“He (Ababa) really played good all day. He’s a real warrior and a real champion,” said Aussie Andrew Campbell, whom Ababa beat here last year.
Gillis battled back from four shots down from fifth to the last flight with a bogey-free 67, forcing a four-way tie at seven-under overall after his last birdie on No. 12. But he flubbed a couple of birdie chances the rest of the way, ending up at 281 for joint third with Mondilla, who birdied three of the last 12 holes to card a 69. Each received $6,300.
With four tied on top and six others just two behind after 54 holes, the title picture remained unclear as Gleeson (13 holes), Gillis (15 holes) and Mondilla (14 holes) caught up with Ababa, who birdied No. 12, at seven-under overall in separate flights as erstwhile joint leaders Keanu Jahns, Campbell and Thai Tawit Polthai fell behind with over-par cards.
But Ababa saved his best for last, birdying Nos. 14 and 16 to pull away from Gillis and Mondilla then drilled in another birdie on the 17th to fend off Gleeson’s final-hole assault.
Swede Andreas Gronkvist matched par 72 and wound up tied at 284 with Keanu Jahns, one of the four third-round co-leaders, who crumbled under pressure and limped with three bogeys at the front. Though he birdied two of the first three holes at the back, the Fil-German bogeyed the 17th for a 74.
Tony Lascuña kept his bid going with an eagle on the par-5 No. 12 to stay at four-under but settled for a bogey-birdie game the last six holes for a 72 to join Gronkvist and Jahns at fifth.
Aussie Andrew Campbell, the other 54-hole co-leader with Tawit Polthai, bowed out with a 39 start marred by a double bogey on the eighth. He ended up joint eighth at 285 with Thai Namchok Tantipokhakul, who fumbled with a 73, and second-day leader and course record setter Dutch Guido Van der Valk, who shot a 72.
Polthai, who sparked hopes for a Thai breakthrough in the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. with a 71 Friday, reeled back with a frontside 38 and hobbled with a 76 marred by three bogeys in the last five holes for solo 11th at 286 in the event backed by Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, K&G Golf Apparel, BDO, Sharp, KZG, PLDT, Empire Golf and Sports and M.Y. Shokai Technology, Inc.