A STELLAR 30-player field, headed by five former champions, braces for another four days of grueling battle of talent, skills and wits in pursuit of one of the most coveted crowns in Philippine golf at one of the country’s toughest courses.
The P5 million The Country Club Invitational gets under way Wednesday (Feb. 14) at the dreaded TCC course with two players going for a record fourth crown, three seeking a repeat and the rest raring to get a crack at the championship.
Four foreign aces spice up the stellar cast in what could be another survival of the fittest the way it did last year when Miguel Tabuena edged three-time winner Juvic Pagunsan when the event, put up by ICTSI boss Ricky Razon in 2003 to honor the memory of his father and ICTSI founder Don Pocholo, was re-staged two years after the Tom Weiskoph-designed layout underwent a major facelift in 2015.
Tabuena posted a high winning score of 13-over 301 at the long, exacting TCC, which plays to a maximum yards of 8,000 from the back tees. Its sleek, undulating surface, unsettling hazards, roughs plus the wind makes it doubly challenging, even to the best of the best.
“When you play TCC, you have to be equipped with everything – shotmaking, iron play, short game and putting, plus mental toughness. One can’t really predict the outcome because each hole’s character could change in an instant in the presence of the wind,” said Tony Lascuña, a multi-titled player on the local circuit still in search for a follow-up to his first TCC victory way back in 2004.
“The additional creeks in some holes and the other minor changes make it more challenging but it makes a difference in terms of how you play it. It’s going to be more of a thinking game,” said Pilipinas Golf Tour and TCC general manager Colo Ventosa.
But while Tabuena, Pagunsan, Lascuña and the rest expect another punishing week, all look forward to four days of thrilling, spirited battle for the top P1.5 million purse.
Angelo Que is also in the fold, and like Pagunsan, the long-hitting former Philippine Open champion is also eyeing to become the first player to win four TCC titles after topping the event in 2007, 2010-11.
Focus will also be on Clyde Mondilla, the reigning PGT OOM winner with three victories last year and a leg winner on the PGT Asia, and Jhonnel Ababa, easily the hottest player with back-to-back PGTA victories at Eagle Ridge and Pradera Verde last month.
Others competing are 2013 champion Frankie Miñoza, PGT Asia leg champion Rene Menor, Zanieboy Gialon, Elmer Salvador, Jay Bayron, Michael Bibat, Jerson Balasabas, Orlan Sumcad, Keanu Jahns, Ferdie Aunzo, Jobim Carlos, James Lam, Rufino Bayron, Ira Alido, Omar Dungca, Joenard Rates, Charles Hong, Arnold Villacencio, Erwin Arcillas and Mhark Fernando.
Dutch Guido Van der Valk and Americans Nicolas Paez and Micah Shin, and Japanese Toru Nakajima provide the foreign challenge in the 14th staging of the annual event, also serving as tune-up for those vying in the grand Centennial Solaire Philippine Open on Feb. 28-March 3, also at the TCC.