The country’s top guns and a slew of foreign aces slug it out in what promises to be a fiery duel of power and precision as the rich ICTSI Luisita Championship unwraps today (Monday, April 15) at the Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed course in Tarlac.
While the locals have dominated the last five legs of the just concluded 2018 PGT Asia season, the foreign bidders from at least 18 nations are coming into the $100,000 championship upbeat of their chances, particularly the top finishers in the PGT Asia Qualifying Tournament last week, also held at the tight, hazard-laden layout somewhat softened by afternoon rain the past two days.
That should make the kickoff leg of the third season of the region’s emerging circuit worth watching with David Gleeson of Australia hard-pressed to duplicate his breakthrough victory here last year when he nipped local bet Erwin Arcillas on the third playoff hole.
“The course is tough, the fairways and greens are softer with the rain. If it continues for the rest of the week, a 12-under total could win it,” said Gleeson. “I can play well and I like the course but the field is tough.”
But this week’s 113-player roster is deep in talent, guaranteeing fierce action right on the first shot up to the last putt on Thursday with the locals vowing to extend their domination after James Ryan Lam, Joenard Rates, Jhonnel Ababa, Juvic Pagunsan and Clyde Mondilla reigned in the last five legs of the just-concluded season in the CAT Open, Summit Point, Pradera Verde, Riviera and Solaire Philippine Open, respectively.
Mondilla, for sure, will be the marked man in all four days after the Del Monte ace held off a horde of pursuers to nail his first Phl Open title and clinch the PGT Asia Order of Merit crown.
“I’m confident and ready for back-to-back. I really prepared well this week but with a different approach since Luisita is tight and long. You have to hit the fairways to get a good shot at the greens and birdies,” said Mondilla, who also took notice of the depth of the field, particularly the foreign bets.
Like Mondilla and the rest of the locals, the foreign bidders from at least 18 nations are also coming into the event upbeat of their chances, particularly the top finishers in the PGT Asia Qualifying Tournament last week, also held here.
But Mondilla will be as much tested as the rest of the cast with a number of Filipino aces seeking redemption following their missed cut stints in the country’s premier championship at The Country Club two weeks ago.
Japan PGA Tour campaigner Pagunsan, for one, has opted to skip the Token Homemate Cup in Nagoya also slated this week to atone for his failed bid in Asia’s oldest National Open where he was one of the pre-tournament favorites following an emphatic victory at PGTA Riviera the previous week.
So do Jobim Carlos, the 2018 PGT OOM winner who cut short his Open bid after sustaining an injury in the first round, four-time PGT Asia leg winner Ababa, multi-titled Tony Lascuña and veteran Elmer Salvador, Rates and Gleeson.
Lam, who broke through with a convincing victory in the CAT Open here last year, is also out to redeem himself from a poor joint 59th finish in the Phl Open, saying: “I will play a little conservative since my driving is a little bit off. I need to play it slowly and surely. If my driving won’t click, I’ll bring the game to my second shots and putting.”
But the field also features a number of talented foreign talents, including Thais Tawan Phongpun and Ratchapol Jantavara, Singapore’s Choo Tze Huang and Gregory Foo, Swede Sebastian Hansson, Rory Hie of Indonesia, Scot Ryan Hood, Hwang Myung Chal of Japan, Grant Jackson of England, Spain’s Marcos Pastor and Americans Lexus Keoninh, Charles Lee and Micah Shin, among others.
Phongpun and Jantavara made it 1-2 in the PGTA Q-School and should be among the fancied bets in the 72-hole championship sponsored by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. with PLDT Enterprise, Meralco, BDO and PGT Asia official apparel Pin High as chief backers.