Still on high following a breakthrough win at ICTSI Summit, Arnold Villacencio braces for an early clash with the so-called “Cangolf boys” as he guns for a second straight victory in the ICTSI Canlubang Golf Invitational unfolding Tuesday at Cangolf’s North course in Laguna.
Villacencio upended young gun Miguel Tabuena on the second playoff hole to end a 27-year quest for a first pro crown at ICTSI Summit Point in Batangas two weeks ago, making him a top contender in this week’s P1.5 million event serving as the penultimate leg of the 16-stage circuit put up by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
“I think I’ve got 90 percent chance to win again here in Canlubang,” said Villacencio during break in yesterday’s pro-am tournament where he and the other leading pros teamed up with guests and amateur players from the event’s chief backers, including Nike Golf, Pacsports Phils. Inc., Srixon, Callaway, Mizuno, Empire Golf, Footjoy, Titleist, Custom Clubmakers, Sharp, KZG and Rudy Project.
But he remains wary of a slew of players who have honed their talent and skills on the tough layout, including the former members of the national team headed by Mhark Fernando, Jhonnel Ababa, Marvin Dumandan and Jessie Balasabas.
“The Canlubang boys have the edge since it’s their home course but we are all in shape and in top form coming off a series of tournaments,” said Villacencio, who drew Edward Reyes and last year’s playoff loser Clyde Mondilla in the 7:40 a.m. group at No. 10.
Also fancied to contend for the top P270,000 purse in the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. are Jun Bernis, Zanie Boy Gialon, Dante Becierra, Ferdie Aunzo, Michael Bibat, Anthony Fernando, Paul Echavez, Joey Huerva, Benjie Magada, Rey Pagunsan, Jun Rates and Gerald Rosales.
Focus will also be on Cassius Casas, who nipped Mondilla on the second playoff hole to rule here last year. The ace Davaoeno shotmaker, who reigned in The Country Club Invitational last February and topped the ICTSI Iloilo leg last July, is trying to become the first player to defend a title in the circuit.
Casas will also start at the back in the company of Gialon and Mhark Fernando at 7:20 a.m. while Ababa, winner of the ASEAN PGA Tour leg recently, is grouped with Bibat and Randy Garalde at 8:50 a.m. on No. 1.
Garalde, meanwhile, teamed up with Robert Alarilla, Daudo Go and Arnold Chung and pooled a 15-under 129 to beat Paul Echavez and teammates Marco Olives, Masakasu Saso and Rolly Viray by two and rule the pro-am tournament.
Becierra, with Don Aquias, Carlos Tuason and Nemi Pagtakhan, took third with a 132.
The absence of the tour’s big guns, including the top three in the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit ranking – Tony Lascuna, Miguel Tabuena and Elmer Salvador – who are all lined up to play in the Macau Open also this week, makes the title chase doubly interesting with Charles Hong, winner at ICTSI Sherwood, emerging as the top ranked player at No. 5 followed by Asian Development Tour ICTSI Orchard leg winner Rufino Bayron.
Hong will also tee off at No. 10 with Rufino Bayron and Anthony Fernando.
Casas is currently at sixth while Dumandan and Ababa are at No. 9 and 10, respectively. No. 6 Jay Bayron are also set to play in Macau together with Fil-Am Carl Santos-Ocampo and No. 8 Angelo Que, who missed winning the Hong Kong Open crown with a playoff loss to Aussie Scott Hend last Sunday.