Pagunsan's spectacular turnaround full of merit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 December, 2011, 12:00am


Juvic Pagunsan capped a remarkable, life-and-career-changing month yesterday by finishing 10th and becoming the first Filipino to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit.

Before the Taiwan Masters in the first weekend of November, the 33-year-old from Manila had earned just US$42,972 this year, was 64th on the order of merit and in danger of losing his card.

But a tied-ninth in Taipei gave him some confidence, and when the Singapore Open was curtailed because of rain, Pagunsan found himself in a play-off with Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and although he lost, he still pocketed US$666,660 to soar to the top of the rankings.

Three 68s and a 70 at Fanling this week left him on six under and holding another cheque for Euro41,007 (US$55,085). Another good result at the US$1 million Thailand Golf Championship next week would see him earn more in 2011 than the rest of his five-year pro career combined.

Winning the order of merit also means guaranteed entry to the British Open and US$8.5 million WGC-Cadillac Championship in 2012, plus a Japan Tour card.

'New Asian Tour No 1, it sounds really good,' said Pagunsan, hugging his daughter outside the scorer's hut. 'It's one of the biggest achievements in my entire life.'

Pagunsan bogeyed the first and fourth in a nervous start, but five birdies either side of the turn (5, 6, 9, 10, 12) ensured he could relax.

'I felt under pressure [this week] as anyone from second to the 10th place on the rankings still had a chance to catch up. It was hard to block that out, but I still focused hard most of the time.

'I'm really surprised. Everyone [on tour] dreams of this. My ranking before the Singapore Open was dangerous and suddenly I just jumped to number one.'

Pagunsan, who learned the game at the age of 13 from father Juanito, also a pro golfer, was not expecting a hero's welcome on his return to Manila, but his daughter's demand to hit the airport shops last night would surely have been met.

'I'll try to win in Thailand, but there's no celebrations yet - and they don't know about me in the Philippines!'

Maybe they will now.

Also making a name for himself was Hong Kong teenager Jason Hak Shun-yat, who had a decent end to an impressive tournament - a 69 to finish three over for a share of 46th alongside luminaries such as Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie and above the likes of 2009 Hong Kong Open champion Gregory Bourdy.

The 17-year-old amateur, who has now made the cut here three times, was mobbed coming off the 18th tee by young fans, who cleaned his golf bag out of balls, gloves, and anything else they could get their hands on, stopping just short of the irons.

Hak heads back to Florida today to catch up on school and reiterated he's in no rush to turn pro - although an invite or two to add some PGA Tour events to his European Tour experience in Hong Kong would be gratefully received.

'Comparing myself to the others, even though I made the cut, I've still got a long way to go, that's the first thing,' said Hak, who seems mature beyond his years, though he feels he needs to improve in that regard, at least on course.

'The second thing is just playing European Tour events, the way the course is set up, how hard it is. I've just got to figure some things out to score well.

'Skill-wise I need to improve some, to get up and downs, to make some more putts. From the mindset and the mental side I need to get more mature and handle myself better on the golf course.'

Hak could be making a tidy living as a pro, but is sensible enough to realise that getting his diploma at Lake Mary Preparatory School in Florida before competing in college golf with Georgia Tech will be far more beneficial long-term.

'For me right now playing golf, the first thing is I really enjoy it and love it,' he said. 'Money-wise, maybe I'll have to think about that more when it becomes my job, but right now my job is to have fun and do well in school.'

Thailand's Pariya Junhasavasdikul was top Asian, joint fourth for US$116,964 to more than double his year's earnings. Yang Yong-eun and Kiradech Aphibarnrat (joint seventh) joined Pagunsan in the top 10, while China number one Liang Wenchong shot his best round of the week, 67, to finish on three under, joint 17th.


Juvic Pagunsan of the Philippines was lying in this position for the Asian Order of Merit last month before his turnaround