AUSSIE Marcus Both burst ahead of a tighly bunched pack with two splendid shots in the closing holes to win the ICTSI Philippine Open on Sunday and revive a golf career he came close to abandoning just last year.
The 34-year-old Both's game, physical condition and life was so messed up last season he lost his Asian Tour card for the first time in 12 years, needing a sponsor's invite just to get into the Open field this week.
He made the most of it by shooting a two-under par 70 in the final round and essentially making the least mistakes in a short Wack Wack East course that once again proved more than the Asian Tour field could handle.
"This is massive for me," said Both, getting emotional when it became official that he had won his first tour title in five years. "Words can't describe (the feeling of) from being an invite to a winner this week."
His five-under 282 total and two-shot win over five players in this US$300,000 event presented by the MVP Sports Foundation and PLDT marked a major turnaround for the 6-foot-3 Aussie, who missed 10 cuts last season to lose his card and, worse, missed the cut by one shot in Q-School.
"It was so bad at the end of last year that I even thought of quitting the game. I had to return to Q-School and missed the cut by one shot. That's when you start to think how much can a guy take," he said.
But a switch in coaches and slight changes in his equipment five weeks ago worked wonders to his game. He went bogey-free in a second-round 66 that gave him the lead and kept telling himself to stay patient after he fell behind with a 76 in the third day.
The two-time Asian Tour winner from Melbourne surged ahead on Sunday with three birdies in his first seven holes and - leading by just one over a chasing pack that included home hopes Tony Lascuna and Jay Bayron - made the decisive break with two clutch shots on the 15th and 16th holes.
The towering Aussie got lucky with a downhill 20-foot birdie putt which he hit a bit harder that he would've liked but nonetheless rammed into the hole, then hit a 4-iron so purely from the 17th tee box the ball stopped just four feet of the cup.
Those two birdies put him at eight-under and four up on the field, enough to cushion two bogeys coming in as he became the first Aussie to win the Open since Adam Le Vesconte at Malarayat in 2005.
"Last year was an emotional year for me on and off the golf course," said Both, who won US$54,000 to climb to 11th in this season's Order of Merit and - more importantly - gain a tour exemption until next season. "(But) it is nice to see that you get rewarded for your hard work."
From the chasing pack, Lascuna, playing in the penultimate threesome with Both, had the best shot at overhauling the Aussie, gaining a share of the lead at six-under after his fourth birdie of the day.
But the current Order of Merit leader of the local tour came undone in the 10th when a flyer off an approach from 70 yards out led to a bogey. Lascuna was still steaming over that miscue when he double bogeyed the 12th after his tee shot clipped a tree.
Worse, Lascuna bogeyed the last when he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker to cap a 70 - an error that cost him roughly $17,000 as he fell from solo second to a five-way tie for runner-up honors with Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh (69), Aussie Nathan Holman (72), Thai Arnond Vongvanij (70) and Bayron (72).
Third-day leader Chan Kim triple-bogeyed the last for a 76 and joint 10th place at one-under.
The final scores: (Filipino unless stated)