STA. Rosa, Laguna — A mad scramble for early control looms as The Country Club Invitational fires off Tuesday at the TCC here with four aces seeking strong starts to fuel their respective drives for a second crown and 26 others all primed for a stab at the most coveted championship on the Philippine Golf Tour calendar.
Dan Cruz took the last spot in the elite cast after three-time champion Juvic Pagunsan failed to show up in yesterday’s pro-am tournament and withdrew from the P6 million championship, leaving the title chase wide open among defending champion Guido Van der Valk, 2004 winner Tony Lascuña, and Frankie Miñoza and Micah Shin, who reigned in 2013 and 2018, respectively.
But the depth of the competing field remains as power-packed as ever with Clyde Mondilla, who won the Solaire Philippine Open here in 2019 but lost by one to Van der Valk three years ago, and last year’s PGT leg winners Michael Bibat and Zanieboy Gialon raring to get going along with multi-titled Jhonnel Ababa and Jay Bayron.
Van der Valk, Mondilla and Bibat get to test each other’s strength in the 8:20 a.m. flight on No. 1 with Lascuña, Miñoza and Ira Alido anchoring the 10 three-man grouping at 8:30 a.m.
Lloyd Go, on the other hand, spearheads the charge of the young guns with the 28-year-old shotmaker due for a big finish after a near-breakthrough at PGT Eagle Ridge last year.
The Cebuano ace drew Shin and Cruz in the 8:10 a.m. group behind the threesome of Gialon, Ababa and Sean Ramos.
Also eager to join the elite circle of winners in the event put up by ICTSI chairman and CEO Ricky Razon in 2003 and which serves as the kickoff leg of this year’s PGT are Rupert Zaragosa, Enrico Gallardo, Reymon Jaraula, Joenard Rates, Rico Depilo, Orlan Sumcad, Jerson Balasabas, Gerald Rosales, Dino Villanueva, Anthony Fernando, Marvin Dumandan, Fidel Concepcion, Albin Engino, Richard Sinfuego, Art Arbole, Mars Pucay, Paul Echavez and Bayron.
One-shot victories have marked the last three editions of the event with now-PGA Tour campaigner Tom Kim edging Keanu Jahns in 2019, Shin thwarting Miguel Tabuena in 2018, and Tabuena outlasting Pagunsan in 2017 with the same wild finish expected in this week’s battle for record P2 million purse in the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
But more than power and shotmaking, it will be a test of will and character.
With the TCC course measuring up to 7,652 yards from the black tees, including the 622-yard par-5 No. 2, it will surely be a question of length but emphasis will also be on strategies, including course management and making sound decisions since a slight miscue could lead to a big score at the exacting, wind-raked layout.