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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Pros back in the hunt as PGT starts at Apo

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DAVAO—The much-anticipated Philippine Golf Tour kicks off at the challenging Apo Golf and Country Club today (Tuesday, March 12), promising a rousing showdown as former champions, seasoned campaigners and emerging talents vie for supremacy in the ICTSI Apo Golf Classic here.

The P2.5 million tournament boasts an impressive roster, including past Order of Merit winners Tony Lascuña, Clyde Mondilla, Jobim Carlos, Elmer Salvador and Jay Bayron, and reigning titlist Jhonnel Ababa, and recent PGT Q-School graduates.

The Apo layout, renowned for its narrow fairways and undulating greens guarded by water hazards, is set to the test the players’ skills and precision over the next four days.

Local favorites Lascuña, Salvador, Bayron and Ababa, all armed with their knowledge of the course at the foothills of Mt. Apo, are eager to make an early impact.

Lascuña, the only four-time OOM winner, acknowledges their slight advantage at Apo, which hosted the 1995 Philippine Open, but emphasizes the competition’s intensity with many skilled players and promising young talents, including PGT Q-School topnotcher Aidric Chan.

“We have a slight edge, but there’s a lot of strong players, including the young ones,” said Lascuna, who reigned here when Apo last hosted a PGT event in 2019.

“I was younger then, now I’m old,” said the 53-year-old Lascuna during Monday’s pro-am. “I will just focus on my game. Everyone has a chance here, so it’s about who will play well all week.”

Apo, with its rich history and challenging features, ensures a captivating start to what promises to be another flourishing year for Philippine golf.

Mondilla, a noted long hitter, plans to keep his driver in the bag, opting for a more conservative approach due to Apo’s tight fairways and undulating greens.

“I’ll be using 4-iron off the tee, so lesser mistakes,” said Mondilla, who is using the first two PGT events to fine-tune his game in preparation for his campaign in Japan next month. “I can’t attack here, the fairways are narrow and the greens are also difficult to read.”

Multi-titled Guido van der Valk, meanwhile, said the course is firm and playing fast, emphasizing the need to focus on ball control and strategic course management.

“It will be interesting but quite tricky to score because it’s not easy to hit the fairways and greens since the ball bounces a lot. If you can play it safe, you’ll be alright,” said van der Valk.

Despite the challenges, he acknowledged the advantage of homegrown talents at Apo.

“The main thing about Apo is that all the top golfers in the country come from this golf club and they’re all here. So my chances are quite difficult but will give it a try,” said the two-time The Country Club Invitational champion.

Chan, on the other hand, initially eyed the Asian Development Tour debut in Vietnam, also slated this week, but chose to join the PGT, highlighting the allure of facing the country’s top guns in the circuit put up by ICTSI.

Other formidable contenders include last year’s leg winners Ira Alido, Rupert Zaragosa and Reymon Jaraula with golf legend Frankie Miñoza adding prestige to the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and supported by PGTI official apparel, Kampfortis Golf.

The field also features notable names such as Dino Villanueva, Michael Bibat, Marvin Dumandan, Albin Engino, Korean Hyun Ho Rho, Nilo Salahog, Mars Pucay, Gerald Rosales and Dan Cruz.

Q-School graduates are also expected to stir up play with talents like Kuresh Samanodi, Kristoffer Arevalo, Randy Garalde, Joseph Labajo, Ramil Bisera, Ryan Monsalve, Ivan Monsalve, Jelbert Gamolo, Brent Sumampong, Josh Jorge, Jonas Magcalayo, Leandro Bagtas and Lanz Uy ready to make their mark.

International flair is added by Koreans Min Hyeok Yu, Gwon Minwook, Kang Chon Koo and Tae Won Kim, Japanese Toru Nakajima, Koji Inoue, Kei Matsuoka, Daiya Suzuki and Ozeki Kakeru, and Drew Proctor and Collin Wheeler of the US, promising a fierce competition in all four days.

The Apo Classic serves as the first of two legs in Davao, followed by the ICTSI Palos Verdes Championship from March 19-22 at the Palos Verdes Golf and Country Club.

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