NICOLAS Paez gave himself a big birthday present on Saturday, a maiden victory on the Philippine Golf Tour as he captured the ICTSI Del Monte Championship by two on a closing three-under 69 in Bukidnon.
The American-Venezuelan shotmaker outplayed Kim Joo Hyung and Tony Lascuña in a pressure-packed frontside duel then fended off Lee Song and James Ryan Lam at the finish to rule the P3 million championship at the Del Monte Golf Club.
Paez overcame erstwhile joint leaders Kim and Lascuna’s one-stroke edge with two birdies against a bogey at the front, including a lead-grabbing tap-in birdie on the ninth then hit three more birdies against another bogey at the back to thwart at least three other bidders for top honors in the P3 million event sponsored by ICTSI with a 10-under 278 total.
Lee, joint leader in the first two days, bogeyed the par-5 18th for the second straight day and finished with a 71.
Paez hit birdie on the 18th, sinking a six-footer to end a string of heartbreaking finishes on the PGT.
That included a joint runner-up finish at PGT Eagle Ridge last March and a share of 15th place in last week’s Apo Invitational.
Paez, who is married to a Filipina, worked his way into contention with two 71s and a 69 on Del Monte.
“I played consistently, especially at the back and it’s good I made it,” said Paez, who turned 29 on Saturday.
“I didn’t expect to win because Kim and Tony were good. Maybe the honor is meant for me,” he added.
Lam fired a 69 for joint second with Lee at 280. Each received P292,500.
Lascuna, in his first serious crack at the crown this year, bounced back from a bogey on the third with a birdie on No. 6. But he bogeyed the par-5 ninth and dropped another stroke on the par-3 No. 12 while muffing a couple of birdie putts. He hobbled with a 74 and ended up tied at fourth at 282 with Lexus Keoninh, also of the US, who matched par 72.
Kim actually took solo lead with birdies on Nos. 5 and 7 but the 16-year-old Riviera-based shotmaker and winner of this year’s Philippine Amateur Open succumbed to pressure and stumbled with a bogey on the eighth and dropped off the lead with a costly triple bogey off a two-stroke penalty on the ninth. He failed to recover and settled for pars before holing out with a bogey for a 75.
Kim limped to joint sixth at 283 with Japan’s Takahashi Keisuke, who rallied with a 68, Reymon Jaraula, who shot a 69, and last week’s Apo leg winner Jobim Carlos, who carded a 70.