CANLUBANG, March 22, 2004  (STAR) By Dante Navarro Tony Lascuna lost his grip of the lead as he lost his putting touch in the early going but recovered his rhythm, form and all at the back to turn back Angelo Que and bag the richest-ever purse in a seven-year pro career P1.1 million when he ruled The Country Club invitational golf championship with a closing 68 for a two-stroke victory here yesterday.

What he lacked in power, Lascuna made up with his near-impeccable short game in the last nine holes then leaned on his experience to turn what had appeared to be a big fold-up into a rousing comeback, erasing a two-stroke deficit with four birdies at the back that broke Ques back and ensured the victory for the dusky Davaoeno shotmaker with an aggregate of 276.

Not even a bogey from a failed bid off the bunker on the par-3 17th could shake Lascuna down the leaderboard again as he built enough cushion three strokes going into that hazard-guarded hole while Que himself failed to cash in on a probable two-shot swing with a flubbed birdie putt from four feet. He settled for second with 278 after a 69 worth P605,000, also his biggest paycheck to date.

Cookie LaO, the other player in a three-man final-round shootout, kicked off his bid from two shots down with a birdie-birdie opener but he three-putted the next then dropped two more strokes on Nos. 8 and 9 and fell farther back after nine holes. He matched par the rest of the way, barely missing an ace on the 17th for a 71 and a 281. He won P385,000.

"Hindi ko naman pinansin nung nag two-up si Que sa front nine. Sanay na rin ako sa mga ganung sitwasyon," said Lascuna, who had fashioned out similar come-from-behind wins in his seven other victories as a pro.

But this one ranks the most, his P1.1 million purse, handed over by golf patron Ricky Razon in awards rites graced by First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, more than 10 times than what he had received in his triumphs in the Philip Morris Golf Classic series in the late 90s, the First Gentleman circuit last year and two other pro tournaments.

Que started like a house on fire but ended up like a house divided, blowing a two-under 33 card in the front side with a bogey on the 10th, giving Lascuna the impetus to launch his fightback from two strokes as he birdied the long par-3 11th from eight feet to draw level and then banged another birdie from about the same distance on the next to go one-up again.

This time, there was no turning back for the 33-year-old shotmaker, the former Cangolf standout and now a Manila Southwoods mainstay and backed here by the American Eye Center of Jack Arroyo, who also handles the careers of Rey Pagunsan, Jerome Delariarte and Cassius Casas and LPGA campaigner Jenny Rosales.

"Magaling talaga. Wala talaga akong masabi," Que said of Lascuna. "Disente naman ang laro ko pero talagang mahusay."

Truly, Ques closing 69 could win tournaments under such challenging condition and on such tough layout as The Country Club but Lascuna played better, or simply was the better player.

"Alam ko naman ang palo nya at sinabi ko na kaya ko to," said Lascuna, who actually had to make do with a slightly-defective Titleist driver which has a small crack on the top.

"Nung RP Open pa actually ito may crack kaya inaalalayan ko ang palo ko dahil may tendency na mag-hook," said Lascuna, who also mentioned his fourth place finish in the last Philippine Open as the other advantage he had over Que and LaO.

"Alam ko naman na ako ang best-placed (Filipino) pro sa RP Open kaya dun pa lang, alam kong lamang na ako," added Lascuna, who was actually hardly affected when he made a couple of three putts on Nos. 7 and 9 that dropped him off the lead, two strokes back.

Because, he knew, experience and talent will prevail in the end.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved