Thai rallies from 6 down, wins by 1

Thai Namchok Tantipokhakul charged back from six strokes down with a brilliant five-under 67 then watched Teemu Putkonen wilt under pressure at the finish to snare the ICTSI Luisita Championship crown by one at the Luisita Golf and Country Club here yesterday.

It was a stirring come-from-behind triumph for the 34-year-old ace from Choburi, who led in the rain-hit first round but dropped to joint third and six off the Finnish with a mediocre 72 Wednesday. But Tantipokhakul worked his way back from third-to-last flight with six birdies against two bogeys after 14 holes then drilled in a clutch birdie on the par-5 16th to finish at 11-under 277 and record his first victory worth $17,500 on Philippine Golf Tour Asia put up by ICTSI.

Tantipokhakul, who tied for sixth in the Solaire Philippine Open two weeks ago and wound up joint 10th in this event last year, thus ended the locals’ domination of the region’s emerging circuit after the Filipinos ruled the last five legs of the 2018 PGT Asia season capped by Clyde Mondilla’s two-shot victory over American Nicolas Paez in the Philippine Open at The Country Club.

Putkonen, who took charge in the third round with a second straight 68, fended off a slew of rivals with a par-game after eight holes, kept a two-shot cushion over his nearest pursuers with a birdie on the ninth and held sway with a birdie rebound after bogeying No. 11.

Putkonen still had three holes left after Tantipokhakul forced a tie at 11-under overall but succumbed to pressure, flubbing a birdie putt on the 16th and bogeying the treacherous par-3 17th to fell by one. He missed another birdie bid for a playoff on the 18th and ended up with a 72, setting for second instead at 278.

Kammalas Namuangruk, also of Thailand, also fought back with a 68 to salvage a share of third at 280 with Spain’s Marcos Pastor and Korean-American Micah Shin, who both carded 70s, and Dutch Guido Van der Valk, who shot a 71.

Tony Lascuña tried to make a run after a bogey on No. 2 with birdies on Nos. 3, 4, 9 and 11 to pull within three of Putkonen. But he stumbled with three bogeys in a four-hole stretch from No. 14 and needed to birdie the last to save a 71 and emerge the best Filipino placer at joint seventh at 283 with Thai Natthapong Niyomchon, who hobbled with a 73.

Jay Bayron and Nilo Salahog also closed out with a pair of 71s for joint ninth with Singapore’s Choo Tze Huang (72), Lexus Keoninh of the US (71), Aussie Jack Lane-Weston (70), Japanese Keita Sudo (74) and Thais Tawit Polthai and Donlaphatchai Niyomchon, who wound up with similar 73s.

It was a sorry setback for Putkonen, who looked headed to ending a long title spell after storming to a three-stroke lead over second-round leader Guido Van der Valk with a 68 in the third round. He stayed on top despite a par-game in the first eight holes as a horde of rivals tried but failed to shake him off until Tantipokhakul sustained his hot front 33 with birdies on Nos. 14 and 16 to get a clear shot at the crown in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High.

Meanwhile, the PGTA gears up for its first tournament abroad next month with the staging of PGTA Taiwan on May 23-26 at the CCK Golf Club.

Topics: Namchok Tantipokhakul , Teemu Putkonen , ICTSI Luisita Championship
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