STA. ROSA, Laguna – Clyde Mondilla broke a two-year run of playoff finishes in the Solaire Philippine Open with a two-stroke triumph yesterday, producing two clutch shots to check an impending skid, salvage a three-over 75 and fend off American Nicolas Paez for the dream crown at The Country Club yesterday.
Stumbling with a four-over card after 13 holes that saw Paez fight back from seven down to within two, Mondilla kept his cool in sweltering heat and came through with a combination solid shotmaking, iron play and putting to birdie Nos. 14 and 15, go four-up again and all but wrap up the championship in this final leg of the second season of the Philippine Golf Tour Asia.
“I’ve won a number of tournaments in the regular circuit but this one is the most memorable, meaningful. I will never forget it,” said Mondilla, who finished with a 72-hole aggregate of two-over 290 at one of the country’s toughest courses.
With Paez birdying the last hole for a 70 and moving within two again with a 292 with Mondilla still to complete the last two holes, it was all up for the Filipino ace to win it, send the battle to another sudden death or blow it all.
Mondilla parred the closing holes, including the treacherous par-4 18th that had stymied a lot of title bids in the past, then soaked in victory after holing out as he joined the elite roster of Open winners that included 17 other Pinoys, headed by 12-time champion Larry Montes, although four – Cassius Casas, Gerald Rosales, Artemio Murakami and Elmer Salvador – all won in an all-Pinoy field.
“When I saw Paez closing in on the leaderboard, I became wary but still confident,” said Mondilla, who banked his biggest paycheck to date worth $90,000 he received, along with the huge trophy, from Solaire president and COO Thomas Arasi.
The 26-year-old star also emerged as the third player from Del Monte to win the Asia’s oldest National Open after six-time titlist Celestino Tugot and two-time winner Frankie Miñoza.
Englishman Steve Lewton nipped Johannes Veerman of the US to snare the 2017 crown with a one-under total while absentee Miguel Tabuena edged Thai Prom Meesawat last year on a one-over aggregate – both via sudden deaths that marked the last two staging of the event sponsored by Solaire Resort & Casino and sanctioned by the National Golf Association of the Philippines.
The triumph was also some sort of redemption for the former PGT Order of Merit winner, who had to fight off personal woes and injuries that hampered his campaign last year following a four-victory romp to emerge the top local player in 2017, He also came off a missed cut stint in the ICTSI Riviera Challenge last week.
But that early exit only served as an impetus for the 2017 PGT Order of Merit winner to do better here after finishing 56th last year. He shot a 71 in the first round then rebounding from a mediocre 75 with a near-impeccable 69 Friday that netted him a four-shot cushion which he preserved and secured with those crucial birdies.
The Thais, who were in contention in the first three rounds, lost steam when it mattered most and bowed out one after the other, extending the country’s perennial rivals’ winless run in the event to another year.
Nirun Sae Ueng stumbled with a 75 but still emerged as the best Thai finisher at joint third at 295 with Angelo Que, who birdied the par-3 17th for the second straight day and saved a 73. Each received $28,250.
Tawit Polthai, who led in the first two rounds, limped with a 77 to end up solo fifth at 296 while compatriots Poom Saksansin (74) and Namchok Tantipokhakul (77) pooled identical 297s and wound up joint sixth in the event sanctioned by the National Golf Association of the Philippines and event backed by ICTSI, PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High.
American Brett Munson sizzled with a backside 33 and saved a 72 for solo eighth at 298, Thai Charng-Tai Sudsom carded a 73 for ninth at 299, while last year’s playoff loser Prom Meesawat of Thailand battled back with a 72 to tie young Korean Kim Joo Hyung, who groped for a 76, at 300 for a share of 10th in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.