CARMONA, Cavite – Notwithstanding the unpredictable weather, softened fairways, thick roughs and sleek putting surface, a star-studded international field of 112 pros, including all of the country’s top guns, set out for an explosive start in the ICTSI Manila Southwoods Championship today (Tuesday) at the Legends course here.
A select pro cast tested the bunker-laden layout in the heat and rain in yesterday’s pro-am tournament, most hinting at a run of under-par scores, some intimating of a tougher, challenging outing and others remaining wary of what lies ahead in the next four days of this $100,000 championship.
“The course looks tough, especially with the erratic weather conditions. Mabigat ang bola,” said Jay Bayron, who ruled this event serving a leg of the Philippine Golf Tour Asia with a whopping 26-under total last year.
But what concerns most of the bidders in this third leg of the region’s emerging circuit put up by ICTSI is the depth of the competing field with the likes of Angelo Que and Miguel Tabuena taking time out from their campaigns abroad to beef up the local roster headed by the red-hot Juvic Pagunsan.
“It’s difficult to feel so confident. The field is strong, anybody can go low at any given day,” said 2017 PGT Order of Merit winner Clyde Mondilla, on a comeback from a recent injury that hampered his campaign after emerging the surprise winner in the Solaire Philippine Open at The Country Club last April.
“I’ll just play my game,” added the Del Monte ace, who also hopes to recall the form that netted him a one-stroke victory over Tabuena and Tony Lascuña here in 2017.
“It’s going to be interesting. Despite the condition of the course, especially the thick roughs, I think a 20-under score will win here,” said American Lexus Keoninh, a three-year local campaigner due for a big finish in the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High.
Jobim Carlos also joins the hunt for the top $17,500 purse with the reigning PGT OOM champion coming into the 72-hole championship brimming with confidence with a form toughened up by a recent stint in Japan following a hand injury that forced him out of a number of local tournaments.
Namchok Tantipokhakul and Wisut Artjanawat are also expected to stir up interest in the next four days, both looking to sustain Thailand’s big start in the circuit after the former topped the kickoff leg at Luisita last April and the latter winning the first PGT Asia co-sanctioned event in Taiwan last May.
But none could be as celebrated as Pagunsan, easily the hottest player from among the stellar cast, who is coming off a sweep of three events in the Visayan swing of the PGT last month.
The region’s former No. 1 skipped the pro-am event but remains a top favorite given his talent and skills that won him a pair of runaway triumphs in Bacolod and a playoff feat over Michael Bibat in Iloilo.
Pagunsan drew Malaysian ace Nicolas Fung and former PGT Asia leg winner David Gleeson of Australia at 7:10 a.m. on No. 1 with Tabuena, out to finish on top in his first local tournament this year, following suit at 7:20 a.m. in the company of Thai Tawit Polthai and Fidel Concepcion, also from Down Under.
Micah Shin is also tipped to contend in all four days with the reed-thin Korean-American, the first non-Filipino to win The Country Club Invitational last year, going for a sweep of sorts of major events at Southwoods after winning the Resorts World Masters at the nearby Masters course in 2017.
Shin, who honed his talent and skills in Davao, will play alongside Spain’s Marcos Pastor and Artjanawat at 7:30 a.m., also on the first hole, with Tantipokhakul teeing off next at 7:40 a.m. with Finland’s Teemu Putkonen and Lascuña.
Bayron will next launch his drive at 7:50 a.m. with Macedonia’s Peter Stojanovski and Wongsakorn Choowong, also of Thailand with Keoninh firing off his bid at the back at 7:20 a.m. with Japanese Keita Sudo and Arnold Villacencio.
Que, meanwhile, drew a late start at 11:40 a.m. with American Brett Munson and Thai Donlapatchai Niyomchoin but the three-time Asian Tour winner, including the Phl Open in 2008, remains upbeat of his chances on a course he calls home and where he has posted a number of victories in a checkered career.