JERSON Balasabas ended a long quest for a breakthrough win the hard way, recovering from a wobbly finish in regulation and edging Dutchman Guido Van der Valk on the first playoff hole to snare the ICTSI Villamor Philippine Masters crown at the Villamor Golf Club yesterday.
The former amateur hotshot, who has gone without a win since breaking into the pro ranks in 2010, toughened up in a pressure-laden finish, coming through with a routine par on their second trip at the par-5 18th to clinch the coveted crown as Van der Valk overshot the green and muffed his par-putt bid from 15 feet.
“I’m glad to get over the hump. Now I know how it feels like to win,” said Balasabas, who missed winning the crown outright with a flubbed birdie-putt on the 72nd hole.
He actually blew a two-stroke lead with three holes left in regulation as he bogeyed No. 16 coupled with Van der Valk’s birdie on the final hole three flights ahead. The Filipino bet closed out with a 72 while the Manila-based ace from Lelystad, the Netherlands fought back with a 70 to force a playoff at 285.
The victory, worth P550,000, also augured well for Balasabas going to the resumption of the PGT Asia next week at Riviera where Clyde Mondilla is the defending champion. It also foiled Van der Valk’s bid for back-to-back victories in the early season of the Philippine Golf Tour put up by ICTSI following his three-stroke win in the ICTSI Eagle Ridge Challenge last March, also the 33-year-old shotmaker’s first victory here.
While Balasabas split the fairway in the playoff, Van der Valk drove into the trees, needed to play out but overshot the green in his third shot from 150 yards, the ball nearly going out of bounds. Balasabas dumped his 4-iron second shot into the greenside bunker and made a poor blast, the ball resting 50 feet away from the cup.
But he nearly drilled in the long birdie putt while Van der Valk’s par-putt bid from 15 feet missed, handing the crown to Balasabas.
“I knew I had a good read and I was really determined to win this one,” said Balasabas, who had previously three runner-up finishes.
“Too bad, there was no way to reach it in two. I needed the next best thing but Jessie (Balasabas) made a great putt,” said Van der Valk, who settled for the P370,000 runner-up purse.
Third round co-leader Jobim Carlos missed joining the playoff with a flubbed birdie putt on the 18th as he hobbled with a second straight 74 and settled for joint third at 286 with Tony Lascuña, who also failed to birdie the par-5 closing hole and fell short of a playoff with a 71.
Most contenders wavered at Villamor’s exacting backside, including Joenard Rates, just one down after 54 holes, who bowed out with two bogeys in the last seven holes. He closed out with a second 75 and slipped to joint fifth at even 288 with American Micah Shin, who rallied with a second straight 70.
Nilo Salahog and Gerald Rosales, who started the final round just two shots off Carlos and Orlan Sumcad, faded with a 75 and 77, respectively, with the former dropping to joint seventh with Arnold Villacencio (70) at 289 and the latter limping with a 77 and falling to joint 10th with Mars Pucay (70) and Elmer Salvador (73) at 291.
Rolando Marabe Jr. matched par 72 and took solo ninth at 290 in the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
True to its pre-tournament hype, the event headed to a gripping finish that has marked each Masters staging, including last year’s revival where Mondilla rallied from four strokes down to snatch a one stroke victory over Lascuna, Jhonnel Ababa and American Nicholas Paez.
But Mondilla crashed with another atrocious campaign, ending up with a 76 for 41st place among 43 survivors of the event backed by BDO, KZG, Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Sharp, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and PLDT.
So tight was the title chase that at least eight players took a shot at the coveted crown in one stretch or another. Lascuña pulled to within two with a birdie on the eighth bogeyed the next two holes and never got to threaten again although he rebounded with two birdies in the last six holes to card a 71.
Shin, winner of this year’s The Country Club Invitational, battled back from six down with three straight birdies from No. 10 but the Davao-based Korean-American flubbed a couple of birdie putts in the next three and bogeyed the long par-4 16th. But he holed out with back-to-back birdies to salvage a share of fifth.
Salahog looked headed for a big weekend and a crack at a breakthrough win with a birdie on No. 11 but he wobbled under pressure and bogeyed two of the last six holes for that 75.
Villacencio tried to mount a rally from seven down with two birdies in the first four holes but he fumbled with a double-bogey on No. 9. He recovered those strokes with birdies on Nos. 11 and 14 but dropped another stroke on the next before holing out with an eagle-3 for a 70.