Dutch rules in Lubao

Guido Van der Valk’s short game does the talking.

GUIDO VAN DER VALK saved his best for last and rewrote the script in overcast Lubao Friday to rule the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) Pradera Verde Championship as Jhonnel Ababa and Tony Lascuña sputtered in the championship flight.

Van der Valk battled back from as deep as four shots down after 10 holes, eagled the par-five No. 12 to get back into the thick of things then rode a clutch two-shot swing on No. 14 to wrest the lead he held to the finish with a brave run of pars.

The Dutch closed out with a solid 69 for an eight-under 280 total to nip Ababa and Lascuña by one after the third-round leader Lascuña fumbled with a 72 and Ababa couldn’t go lower than a 70 for identical 281s.

Van der Valk banked another P360,000 as he clinched the crown in fitting fashion—he was the only player to go under par in all four days at the 7,262-yard well-kept championship layout at the sprawling Pradera complex.

“It’s a bit of struggle, actually all week,” said Van der Valk, who fired 71 in the opening round then put himself in contention with back-to-back 70s. “I didn’t hit the ball well but my short game has been really, really good this week.”

“So that got me through and I started to hit the ball better in the last nine holes, which is kind of good timing because that’s when it was needed,” added the Manila-based Dutchman, whose latest win, his fifth, including the The Country Club Invitational in 2020, made him the only player to win two titles in this year’s six-leg Philippine Golf Tour following his playoff triumph over Luisita leg winner Miguel Tabuena at Splendido Taal last May.

With a streak of 11 pars in the final round, Van der Valk thought he would never had a chance to get a crack at the crown. He was so frustrated he would lose his cool in one stretch, cursing himself for a missed chip on No. 11.

But all changed when he chipped in for eagle on No. 12 as he pulled within one off the Davaoeño aces, who slugged it out for the coveted diadem from No. 5 all the way to the 12th.

“I couldn’t get a birdie in the first 11 holes. But on No. 12, I hit a good drive and tried to hit a 5-wood high so it would stop. But it landed off the green but rolled that one in. It was really nice,” he said.

It was, however, his chip-in birdie on No. 14 that shoved him to the lead as Ababa failed to rescue a par from the bunker and Lascuña also yielded a precious stroke on a flawed par-putt bid.

“That made the big difference. I also thought I had them both but my birdie putt on No. 16 lipped out. Luckily, it was enough in the end,” added Van der Valk.

“Sayang, kinapos,” rued Ababa, who actually looked headed to posting a third victory here at Pradera after birdying two of the first three holes to hike his lead to four. But he fumbled with back-to-back bogeys from No. 6, recovered the strokes on Nos. 9 and 10 but slipped back with bogeys on Nos. 11 and 14.

Lascuña leaded appeared on his way to snapping back-to-back runner-up finishes at Eagle Ridge-Aoki and Riviera after drawing level with Ababa with a birdie on No. 12. But the four-time PGT Order of Merit winner missed a par-saving bid on No. 14 and like Ababa, missed a playoff-clinching putt from eight feet on the 72nd hole.

“I had a good read and stroke but the ball just didn’t drop,” said Lascuña, who split the combined second and third prizes worth P372,000 with Ababa.

Keanu Jahns matched Van der Valk’s three-under card to finish solo fourth at 282 and pocketed P106,000 while Angelo Que carded a 70 for fifth at 284 and Ira Alido ended up sixth at 285 after a 71.

Justin Quiban fired the day’s best 68 to snare seventh place at 286, Reymon Jaraula pooled a 287 after a 73 for eighth and Frankie Miñoza turned in a 73 to tie Gerald Rosales, who struggled with a 74, at 10th at 288, the legend’s best in a long while.

But it was Van der Valk who hogged the spotlight in the end, proving that any average hitter could win on a course which puts premium on length.

He dedicated his latest exploit to his wife, Loradelle, and his parents who arrived the other day for a brief vacation.

“Their presence motivated and inspired me no end,” said Van der Valk.

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