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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Ababa pulls off 5-shot romp as Bibat misfires

Clark Freeport Zone—Jhonnel Ababa came out on top of a gut-wrenching battle of wits and nerves that was nothing but seething, fashioning out a five-stroke triumph on a late but decisive three-shot swing on No. 16 that stymied Michael Bibat’s stab at ICTSI Mimosa Plus Championship glory here on Friday.

But it was more of Ababa’s day-long brilliance that set him apart from the rest and netted him a second championship at the close of the 10-leg Philippine Golf Tour season as he reset the course mark with an unblemished eight-under 64 for a whopping 22-under 266 total over four rounds of intense duel of shotmaking, iron play and putting at Acacia course.

He beat Bibat, who played in a group ahead, and flightmate Dino Villanueva by five after both carded 69s for 271s while three-day leader Guido van der Valk squandered a three-under card with a double-bogey, bogey finish on a course whose closing holes not only tested the chief contenders’ skills but also their mental toughness despite yielding a run of under-par scores in all four days.

The Dutchman wound up with a 72 and fell to fourth at 272 while Nilo Salahog and Keanu Jahns tied for fifth at 274 after a 70 and 71, respectively, and Tony Lascuña carded a 69 for joint seventh at 276 with Elmer Salvador, who also faded with three bogeys in the last eight holes after an eagle-spiked frontside 33 for a 72.

Marvin Dumandan, who lost in a four-hole playoff to Justin Quiban in the last PGT leg at South Pacific in Davao, charged back with a 68 to tie Elee Bisera, who shot a 69, Sean Ramos and Iloilo leg runaway winner Rupert Zaragosa, who matched 71s, at ninth at 277.

Jhonnel Ababa shows off his trophy.

“I just wanted to go for the green (on par-5 No. 16) after driving into the fairway bunker. But I hit my third shot to within birdie distance and made it,” said Ababa in Filipino, who spiked his title romp on a pair of four-birdie feats on both nines to turn what had been a wild, wooly stretch run chase into a runaway triumph worth P450,000.

He earlier saw Bibat misfire on the 16th and told himself: “I have a chance (to win).”

The Davaoeño ace didn’t only seize the moment. He also made the most of it, holing out with his eighth birdie for a pair of 32s that capped a four-day display of stellar play that included rounds of 68-65-69.

“This win is a big blessing. There was so much pressure at the start but I told myself to stay focused and enjoy the game,” said Ababa, who thanked his family and friends for their all-out support throughout his campaign, including Borough Lasik Center, Ping Philippines and Calatagan Golf Club.

The margin of victory didn’t reflect the manner by which the final 18 holes were fought as Ababa still trailed Bibat by one heading to the par-5 16th, which the latter had birdied in the first three days of the P2 million event put up by ICTSI.

But the 2006 Asian Games bronze medalist bungled his second shot, found the water and ended up with a double-bogey, setting the stage for Ababa’s unswerving march to another PGT win.

Bibat never recovered from that late slip and bogeyed the 17th, blowing what he had toiled in stifling heat that saw him produce six birdies in the first 10 holes that drove him past van der Valk.

“I birdied No. 16 for three days, so I went for it again. But I made a mistake, so that’s golf,” said Bibat, who split the combined second and third place prizes of P465,000 with Villanueva.

Except for the decisive finish, the final round could rank as one of the most hotly disputed as event personnel were as scrambled as the title race as they kept juggling six names on the leaderboard in the first nine holes until Bibat made the turn with a blistering five-under card firmed up by three closing birdies and pulled ahead at 19-under overall.

He stayed on the saddle despite the final group’s relentless assault at the back, birdying the 10th to go 2-up on Ababa and van der Valk and stringing a run of five pars until he came undone on No. 16.

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