Keen competition is seen as the full-packed international roster begins its chase for fame and fortune in the P1.5 million-ICTSI Splendido Classic, which unfolds Wednesday at the wind-swept Splendido Taal Golf Club in Tagaytay.
The 100-player field, the biggest in the six-year history of the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour, braces for a four-day battle of shot-making and wits, each looking for the victory and the early momentum in a busy golfing season, this being the kick-off leg of a 16-stage circuit spread over the country’s top courses.
And the par-72 Splendido layout, nestled on the Grand Taal mountain ridges, hopes to provide the challenge for the men of the tour with its tough holes, daunting hazards and sleek putting surface.
Miguel Tabuena, the best-placed Filipino together with Clyde Mondilla at seventh in last Sunday’s Solaire Open, draws Jhonnel Ababa and Cebuano Charles Hong in the 11:40 a.m. flight on No. 1 while reigning back-to-back ICTSI PGT Order of Merit winner Tony Lascuña is paired with fellow Asian Tour veteran campaigner Mars Pucay and Rufino Bayron at 7:50 a.m., also on No. 1.
Elmer Saban, who foiled veteran Cassius Casas to nail his first victory here last year, faces an early challenge from Frankie Miñoza, who scored three victories last year, including The Country Club Invitational and two PGT legs in Pueblo de Oro and Del Monte, and Jay Bayron at 7:45 a.m. on No. 10.
Casas, who missed the cut at Soiaire, vows to bounce back this week, seeking a fast start on a late tee-time at 11:45 a.m. at the back in the company of Mhark Fernando and Swede Malcolm Kokocinski, one of a slew of foreign players vying for the top P270,000 purse in the 72-hole championship sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
“I hope to strike back at Splendido although the field is strong. But I’ll do my best to atone for my missed-cut stint in Solaire,” said Casas, who won this year’s TCC Invitational and ruled the Canlubang leg late last year.
The other foreign bets tipped to contend for the crown are Dutch Guido Van der Valk, Japanese Tomokazu Yoshinaga, Koreans Miki Ryoma of Japan, Kim Chang Hoi and Cho Byung Kyu, CJ Stjarnfalt, also of Sweden, and Japan’s Toru Nakajima, who humbled the local aces to capture the ICTSI Wack Wack Championship last November.
Also expected to vie for top honors in the event, organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by Nike Golf, Custom Clubmakers, Titleist, Cleveland, Pacsports, Srixon, Callaway, Sharp and FootJoy with Balls TV and ABS-CBN Sports+Action as media partners are Zanie Boy Gialon, Elmer Salvador, Carl Santos-Ocampo, Orlan Sumcad, Gerald Rosales. Jun Bernis, Jerson Balasabas, Michael Bibat, Anthony Fernando. Ferdie Aunzo, Dante Becierra, and young guns John Kier Abdon, Art Arbole, Keanu Jahns and Andres Saldaña.
Meanwhile, PGT action shifts to Baguio next week with the ICTSI Camp John Hay Championship on March 26-29 with Jay Bayron seeking to defend the crown he won in a playoff over Tabuena last year. Eagle Ridge will host the third leg on April 8-11 with the fourth stage set on the adjacent Sherwood Hills Golf Club on April 23-26.