Juvic Pagunsan returns from more than a two-year absence on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour, headlining the elite field toughened up by a slew of foreign bets in the P1.5 million ICTSI Classic unfolding Wednesday at the Mt. Malarayat Golf and Country Club composite courses in Lipa City, Batangas.
Pagunsan has said he would pay before teeing-off at 7:15 a.m. the P25,000 fine he incurred for pulling out of the singles matches in the final round of The Duel at Alabang in 2013. This prompted the organizing Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. to suspend the ace shotmaker, who was also sacked for the same offense in 2011.
His presence in the 72-hole championship, the 10th leg of this year’s circuit sponsored by ICTSI, is expected to tighten up the battle for top honors with the 37-year-old smooth-swinging shotmaker renewing his rivalry with the cream of the crop, led by Tony Lascuña, Elmer Salvador, Jay Bayron, Mars Pucay, Marvin Dumandan, Charles Hong, Rufino Bayron, Cassius Casas, Gerald Rosales, Rey Pagunsan and Artemio Murakami.
Pagunsan drew Pucay and Hanson So Jr., hoping to showcase the form that won him the 2011 Asian Tour Order of Merit crown. During his suspension, he campaigned on the lucrative Japan PGA Tour, posting three top 10 finishes in 2013 and 2014 seasons. He placed fifth in the Kansai Open last May but missed the cut in the Musee Platinum Open in Hyogo two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Lascuña is upbeat of his chances for a second straight win after nipping Miguel Tabuena to claim his first victory late in the season at ICTSI Apo three weeks ago.
“My ball striking is quite okay and my confidence is back,” said Lascuna, who racked up five wins to retain the PGT OOM crown for the third straight time last year. “I’ll just have to work on my putting which is the key here at Malarayat.”
Lascuña is pitted against fellow Davaoeño Jay Bayron and Tonton Asistin at 8 a.m. while Salvador is paired with the long-hitting Orlan Sumcad and Benjie Magada in the 8:05 a.m. flight.
Casas also hopes to recover from a hand injury that has hampered his campaign in Apo as he sets out at 8:15 a.m. against Korean Anthony Kim and Dutch Guido Van der Valk, while Hong, winner at ICTSI Luisita, heads the 7:35 a.m. group that includes Jhonnel Ababa and Jessie Balasabas.
Jobim Carlos, who topped this year’s Qualifying School, is also in the fold along with Japanese Hiromitsu Shimizu and Yuda Sudo and Koreans Woo Seong Bin, Gyuha Park, Lee Hyun Woo and Kim Si Hoo.
However, Tabuena, winner of two legs this year and the current OOM leader, won’t be around for an extended vacation in the US.
The event also serves as tune-up for next week’s Aboitiz Invitational, the third Asian Development Tour event set at Southwoods’ Legends layout where the local aces will slug it out with the best in the region for the top $17,500 purse.