Blazing finish nets Rates maiden win

Posted at 03/30/2014 8:45 AM | Updated as of 03/30/2014 8:45 AM

BAGUIO – In an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, Jun Rates didn’t blink, battled Tony Lascuña shot-for-shot and putt-for-putt then beat the reigning back-to-back Order of Merit champion with a scorching three-birdie finish to capture the ICTSI Camp John Hay Championship by three with an eight-under 62 here yesterday.

Rates bucked an early slip and Lascuña’s charge with gutsy par saves and clutch birdies, then outgunned his fancied rival in a backside shootout, capped by that fiery windup for the day’s best card, ending a five-year long title spell and joining the elite circle of winners on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour with a 22-under 250 total.

Rates never ran out of surprises in proving his worth against the best in the fold. Blowing a two-shot lead after Lascuña pounced on a two-shot swing on No. 2 (birdie-bogey), he matched Lascuña’s pars and birdies with pressure-packed putts, the first on No. 8 from 30 feet to salvage a par, a six-foot birdie on the ninth to remain tied at the turn and a five-foot birdie on the 10th to regain the lead.

He rolled in a delicate downhiller from seven feet on No. 12 to remain on top, went two-up with another birdie on the 13th then took a three-shot cushion when Lascuña dropped a stroke on No. 14. Refusing to give up, Lascuña fought back with a birdie on No. 15 but Rates saved another tough uphill par from 10 feet then matched Lascuña’s birdies in the next two before birdying the 72nd hole from two feet off a superb 9-iron shot from 160 yards for good measure.

“I had a tough time making my first birdie on No. 7 but I made three crucial par saves from long range, which kept me going and helped me win,” said Rates, referring to his putts on Nos. 8, 12 and 15.

His stirring three-birdie windup capped a near-flawless 34-28 round, a solid finish that spoke well of the caliber of the diminutive player who was never given a second look in this P2 million event and never got close to contending for a crown after finishing third here in 2012.

“It’s a great feeling winning for the first time and I hope to go for it again in the next two legs at Eagle Ridge and Sherwood,” said the 5-3, five-year pro from Lipa, Batangas who pocketed P360,000.

Lascuña also put on a strong finishing kick with three birdies from No. 15 to shoot a 63 but just couldn’t shake off the steady Rates, barely flubbing an eagle-putt from 14 feet on the 17th and settling for second with a 19-under 253 worth P250,000.

“He (Jun) deserved to win. He played solid the whole week and was very determined to win his first title,” said Lascuña. “But it was his clutch putts on Nos. 12 and 15 that helped him win.”

Jay Bayron, who nipped Miguel Tabuena on the second playoff hole to rule this event last year then came from nine strokes down to beat brother Rufino in last week’s ICTSI Splendido Classic, shot a 67 and wound up solo third at 258 worth P140,000.

“I’m happy for Jun. He’s been chasing this one for a long time,” said Jay Bayron.

Fil-Am Carl Santos-Ocampo carded a 65, took solo fourth at 259 and pocketed P115,000 while Que rallied with a 64 to tie Orlan Sumcad, who shot a 65, at 261 and split the combined purse of P167,000.

The other backers of the event were Nike Golf, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Cleveland, Pacsports, Srixon, Callaway, Sharp and FootJoy and media partners Balls TV and ABS-CBN.