An early shootout among the best of the best looms as defending champion and former Asian Tour Number 1 Juvic Pagunsan, fellow three-time winner Angelo Que and the rest of the stellar field begin their chase in the P5 million The Country Club Invitational today (Thursday, Feb. 7) at the wind-raked TCC layout in Laguna.
Unlike in past stagings of the premier event marked by runaway victories, a tight, spirited battle is seen all the way to Sunday’s finale with the elite 33-player roster all in top form and the dreaded TCC wind expected to come into play this weekend.
Pagunsan drew reigning Asian Development Tour Order of Merit winner Jay Bayron of Davao and former amateur hotshot Clyde Mondilla in the 9:30 a.m. flight, hoping for a strong start and a stronger finish the way he did last year when he turned a fierce battle into a four-shot romp over Dabawenyo Elmer Salvador.
Que, out to rebound from a disappointing joint fourth place finish last year after ruling the last two editions of the event in emphatic fashions, faces an early challenge from two tough rivals, including the most dreaded player in the field today.
Dabawenyo Tony Lascuna, who won three legs on the ICTSI-Philippine Golf Tour last year to cop the OOM crown and the Players’ Player of the Year honors, is oozing with confidence coming into the event, having captured the Sabah Masters in come-from-behind fashion last month.
Still, Lascuna, winner in 2004, has opted to downplay his chances, saying the big hitters have the edge on the long and windy course.
“It’s a tough course, long and windy,” said Lascuna during yesterday’s pro-am of the event put up by ICTSI chair and CEO Ricky Razon in honor of his father ICTSI founder Enrique “Don Pocholo” Razon Sr. “But I’m ready and in top condition although this course is for the long hitters.”
Meanwhile, Razon yesterday launched the 17-leg ICTSI PGT during awards rites of the pro-am tournament. The 2013 season will start at Sherwood Hills in Cavite on March 18-23 and will again end at Wack Wack on Nov. 19-23.
The ICTSI PGT Qualifying School is slated March 4-8 at the Splendido Golf Club in Tagaytay.
Lascuna mentioned Pagunsan and Que as two of the players to watch along with Mondilla and Orlan Sumcad.
Marvin Dumandan, another power-hitter, joins Que and Lascuna in the 8:40 a.m. group in a slam-bang threesome tipped to draw interest in the first two days of the 72-hole championship serving as the kick-off leg of this year’s ICTSI PGT.
Also seeing action are ICTSI-TCC mainstays Dottie Ardina, Cyna Rodriguez, Lovelynn Guioguio and Jayvie Agojo, who surprised the pro field by leading the first round last year before ending up joint 11th.
From the looks of things, the fight for the record P1.4 million top purse could go down to the last putt or perhaps end up the way it did in 2006 when Pagunsan nipped Frankie Miñoza in a thrilling playoff. Pagunsan also won in 2008 after Que scored a breakthrough in 2007 but the latter came back strong and swept the last two titles.
Salvador, the former OOM winner, is grouped with Miguel Tabuena and 2009 champion Artemio Murakami in the 8:20 a.m flight while Minoza, chasing his first TCC Invitational title, drew Jhonnel Ababa and Charles Hong in the 9:10 a.m. group.
The other featured threesomes are inaugural winner Cassius Casas, Asian Tour campaigner Mars Pucay and Richard Sinfuego at 9:50 a.m. and 2005 champion Jerome Delariarte, James Ryan Lam and Sumcad at 8:30 a.m.(pr)