Cebuano Charles Hong returns to the site of his biggest career win, confident of his chances for a repeat against a field teeming with talent when the ICTSI Luisita Championship is fired off Wednesday (March 30) in Tarlac.
“I’ve been playing well so far this year and I hope it continues,” said Hong, who put together four under-par cards at the Luisita Golf and Country Club to upstage Tony Lascuña and Orlan Sumcad last year for his third victory that he said only proved that he could win against the best in the fold.
“That victory only validated my two other wins that I can do it anytime,” said the Cebuano shotmaker who nipped Richard Sinfuego in sudden death for his maiden win at ICTSI Pueblo de Oro in 2012 and rallied to edge American Micah Shin by one at ICTSI Sherwood Hills in 2014.
But to score a repeat at Luisita, Hong would need to duplicate or better his strong start last year – a 66 that gained him a share of the lead with Clyde Mondilla, Albin Engino and Keanu Jahns. He did drop to second despite a 68 and 69 in the middle rounds but pounced on Mondilla’s early foldup and Jahns’ backside meltdown in the final day to snare a two-shot victory on a closing 70.
Given Luisita’s tight fairways, Hong stresses the need for solid driving with the Cebuano ace expecting the going to get tougher with the best of the best in the fold and all geared-up for the top P650,000 purse in the P3.5 million event sponsored by International Container Terminal Services.
“I just need to keep the ball in the middle of the fairway. I can’t control what they will shoot but I can control my game. The competition is good for me and it will drive everyone to play better as always,” said Hong.
Miguel Tabuena, for one, is out to make it two-in-row after the reigning Philippine Open champion and Order of Merit winner ruled the Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.-organized circuit’s kickoff leg in Anvaya Cove Invitational, besting Mondilla by three last month.
Angelo Que is the other player tipped to contend for the crown with the former three-time Asian Tour champion eager to set foot at Luisita for the first time in a long, long while. He didn’t see action last year and skipped the Central Azucarera de Tarlac and Philippine Open.
But the long-hitting ace is coming into the event oozing with confidence following his strong joint fourth finish in the Indian Open two weeks ago.
Lascuña is also due for a big win along with Dutch Guido Van der Valk, Japanese Toru Nakajima, Cassius Casas, Jay Bayron and Korean Park Min Ung, ensuring a shootout in all four days at the challenging par-72 Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed layout.
Meanwhile, the leading pros team up with the amateurs and guests of the event’s chief backers, including Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Summit Mineral Water, Pacsports, TaylorMade, Sharp and Champion in tomorrow’s pro-am.
Mondilla is also fancied in the event along with Elmer Salvador, Rolando Marabe Jr., Orlan Sumcad, Marvin Dumandan, Rufino Bayron, Michael Bibat, Jhonnel Ababa, Mhark Fernando, Jerson Balasabas, Jun Bernis, Dante Becierra, Anthony Fernando, Zanie Boy Gialon, Rey Pagunsan, Mars Pucay, Joenard Rates, Gerald Rosales and Frankie Miñoza.
A host of foreign aces will also try to upstage the local talents, including Sam Ayotte, Daniel Inocencio, Dylan Jackson, Dillon Soldwisch, Christopher Oetinger and John Jackson of the US, Koreans Hwang Kang Youl, Anthony Kim, Kim Chang Yeon, Park Jun Hyeok, Park Jun Song, Park Min Ung and Seok Jun Min, Aussies Mark Leich, Kevin Marques, Nathan Park, Nelson Turner and Ben Ratcliffe and Japanese Yuta Sudo, Ryoma Miki and former leg winner Toru Nakajima.