With a crack international field going up against the local aces and a tough layout sporting new-look and challenges expected to be compounded by gale-force wind, the Solaire Philippine Open offers a dash of suspense right in the opening round of the $400,000 event at The Country Club in Sta. Rosa, Laguna today.
No less than the two Filipino Open champions and the reigning local Order of Merit champion have predicted a four-day exacting battle against the subtle terrors from the wind-raked Tom Weiskoph-designed layout, which underwent a major renovation to conform to world standard in time for 99th staging of the Asia’s oldest championship.
“It’s quite difficult to win this tournament in under-par. The course is notorious for its strong wind, so I think a 10-over would be the winning score. But it would really depend on the condition in the next four days,” said Miguel Tabuena, who posted a winning 13-over 301 total when the TCC re-opened for the Razon Cup three weeks ago.
Tabuena won this rain-shortened event in 2015 at Luisita in Tarlac, capping a breakthrough season but the young Olympian remains wary of his chances for a repeat given the depth of the competing field and the course condition.
Angelo Que, coming off an emphatic nine-stroke romp at Anvaya Cove Invitational two weeks ago, backed up Tabuena’s forecast, saying 8- to 10-over would clinch it depending on the wind condition.
“In golf, the wind condition is always the determining factor. You cannot tell or make prediction with regard to the winning score. I respect this course so much and I don’t believe those who say that they can win here in under-par,” said Que, who also won this event in 2008 at Wack Wack, his third on the Asian Tour.
Meanwhile, Tabuena, who posted a winning 13-over 301 total when the TCC re-opened for the Razon Cup three weeks ago, kicks off title-retention drive in the event, backed by title sponsor Solaire Resort and Casino and held in cooperation with Meralco and PLDT, at 7:20 a.m. on No. 1 with Thai Poom Saksansin and Japanese Masahiro Kawamura.
Que, 38, drew a rather late start at 11:30, also on the first tee, with Johannes Veerman of the US and Thai Jazz Janewattananond, currently at No. 17 in the Asian Tour Order of Merit ranking.
Focus will also be on the elite veteran group of former PH Open champions Frankie Miñoza and Mardan Mamat of Singapore and 2013 Solaire Open winner at Wack Wack Lin Wen-tang of Chinese-Taipei, who will be teeing off at 6:50 a.m. on No. 10.
Tony Lascuña, actually the hottest local player with four OOM titles in the last five years, begins his chase for the elusive Phl Open diadem at 8:10 a.m. on No. 1 with American Paul Harris and 2014 champion Marcus Both of Australia.
“I think, a four- to eight-over total will win it. It’s a tough course and it will take a lot of patience to win here,” said Lascuña.
Also tipped to crowd the favorites in the battle for the top $72,000 purse is Japanese Toru Nakajima, who placed third at the TCC Invitational and second to Que at Anvaya in the last three weeks.
Others who could pull off early surprise in the event supported by Pioneer Insurance, Lexus, BDO, Sharp, Custom Clubmaker, KZG, Empire Golf and Titleist are former Asian Development Tour-Philippine Golf Tour winners Thai Itthipat Buranatanyarat, Malaysian Arie Irawan and Swede Oscar Zetterwall.
Four amateurs from the National Golf Association of the Philippines, which sanctions the event being the country’s governing golf body, are also in the fold, including Wei Wei Gao, Paolo Wong, Ryan Monsalve and Nikolo Gatmaytan.
Other local bets tipped to vie for the crown are Clyde Mondilla, Jay Bayron, Zanieboy Gialon, Elmer Salvador and Davao-based Korean-American Micah Shin.
Buranatanyarat and Saksansin, meanwhile, are spearheading a big 24-player Thai squad out to score a breakthrough in the country’s premier championship, including Poosit and Sattaya Supupramai, Natthapong Niyomchon, Panuwat Muenlek, Thammanoon Sriroj and Chinnarat Phadungsil.