STA. ROSA, Laguna – One less of the best of the best, the elite cast slugs it out beginning Wednesday – all aiming for a hot start and the momentum in what promises to be an explosive launch to the new ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour season – the P5 million The Country Club Invitational at the TCC course here.
The former champions, save for one, and the top players from last year’s PGT Order of Merit ranking are all here, eager to test not only each other’s shotmaking and putting skills but also the exacting course in pursuit of one of the most coveted championships in Philippine golf.
Miguel Tabuena sees another wild finish the way it was last year when he pooled a wind-blown 13-over 301 total and snatched a one-stroke victory after three-time champion Juvic Pagunan fumbled with a bogey on the 72nd hole for his first TCC crown.
“TCC’s only defense is the wind, which creates a lot of problems for us,” said Tabuena, bracing for another grueling four-day battle of wits at the Tom Weiskoph-designed layout, which underwent a major facelift in 2015-16.
It’s a virtual mano-a-mano right from the start with the 30 players divided in twosomes, headed by the explosive match-ups between Angelo Que and Tony Lascuña, Frankie Miñoza and Tabuena, and Clyde Mondilla and Jhonnel Ababa.
Pagunsan, meanwhile, begged off at the last minute, complaining of noise-induced hearing loss following a stint at the firing range.
Still, the depth of the field remains as talent-laden as ever and the chase for the top P1.5 million purse is expected to go down to the last shot or putt with the lesser-fancied but equally talented players all raring to prove their worth in the 72-hole championship put up by ICTSI president and chairman Ricky Razon in 2003 to honor the memory of his father and ICTSI founder Don Pocholo.
They include Micah Shin of the US, veterans Jay Bayron and Elmer Salvador, American Nicolas Paez, Japanese Toru Nakajima, and Dutch Guido Van der Valk along with young guns Keanu Jahns, Jobim Carlos and Ira Alido.
“Nobody is a sure bet to win here. The course is long and tough and the greens are so sleek and undulating. It would require a solid game overall to score and contend,” said Lascuna.
Meanwhile, Razon formally launched this year’s PGT, the Ladies PGT and the second PGT Asia in rites graced by the cream of the pro crop after yesterday’s TCC Invitational pro-am. More than 35 tournaments have been lined up for the three circuits to be highlighted by the staging of the Centennial Solaire Philippine Open on Feb. 28-March 3, also at the TCC.
Other pairings pit Shin vs Jahns, Paez vs Carlos, Ferdie Aunzo vs James Lam, Nakajima vs Rufino Bayron, Alido vs Omar Dungca, Joenard Rates vs Charles Hong, Arnold Villacencioi vs Erwin Arcillas, Zanieboy Gialon vs Jay Bayron, Rene Menor vs Michael Bibat, Salvador vs Jerson Balasabas, Van der Valk vs Orlan Sumcad, and Mhark Fernando vs Albin Engino, who took Pagunan’s spot.
While focus will be on the early clash between the best of the old and new in Miñoza vs Tabuena at 9:04 a.m. and the 9:12 a.m. face-off between Que and Lascuña, the Mondilla-Ababa duel at 9:20 a.m. should also generate much interest.
Mondilla, who racked up four victories, including three on the PGT and one at PGT Asia, to nail his first OOM title, will be slugging it out with the hottest player on the tour today.
Ababa swept the last two legs of the PGT Asia at Eagle Ridge and Pradera Verde in convincing fashions, making him a top bet for this week’s championship.