Michael Bibat faces an early test of will and poise as he starts out with Jay Bayron and Miguel Tabuena in a clash of leg winners in today’s kickoff of the P1 million ICTSI Del Monte Championship at Del Monte Golf Club in Bukidnon.
The featured threesome is set to tee off at 7:30 a.m. with Bibat hard-pressed to come up with a strong start to fuel his bid for back-to-back wins after humbling a stellar field to rule the ICTSI Rancho Palos Verdes Classic in Davao last week.
It was Bibat’s first-ever victory in a five-year pro career and it came after he fended off the challenges of the tour’s big guns one after the other with a steady backside stint.
His bearing will be put in an early test with Bayron and Tabuena expected to likewise pressed their respective drives early for a second leg win on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour.
Bayron, who nipped Tabuena on the second playoff hole to snatch the ICTSI John Hay crown last April, looked headed for a repeat at Palos Verdes but the ace Davaoeño shotmaker failed to sustain a hot start of 33 and faltered with a closing 37, settling for joint fourth with four others.
Tabuena, who dominated the field to score a runaway victory in the circuit’s kickoff leg at Sherwood Hills last March, primed up for Del Monte with a joint fifth place finish in last week’s Templer Park Masters of the Asian Development Tour in Malaysia, eager to get going and contend for the top P200,000 purse in this sixth leg of the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
But the rest are likewise raring to impose their will and stay in early contention in the 54-hole championship, including local hero Frankie Miñoza, who enjoys perhaps the proverbial home-court edge more than anybody in the big 92-player field.
Still, the battle for top honors in the event, backed by Nike Golf, Empire Golf and Sports Shop, Mizuno, Titleist, Srixon, Foot Joy, Callaway, Pacsports, Custom Clubmakers, Cleveland Golf and Sharp, remains wide open with Mhark Fernando also out to duplicate his victory when the tour, sponsored by ICTSI, held its last tournament here in 2011.
Fernando underscored his readiness for another title crack by leading his team composed of Titing Callo, Titoy Estenzo and Jun Balagot to yesterday’s pro-am victory with a 56 output, nipping Marvin Dumandan and teammates Jun Mostrales, Ricky Baguio and Reynaldo Mutiangpili by one.
Tony Lascuna and partners Raul Leonen, Dennis Mijares and Leo Lagumbay finished third with a 58.
Minoza will tee off on the first hole at 11 a.m. in the company of Rey Pagunsan and Elmer Saban while Fernando drew Ferdie Aunzo and 2010 winner Cassius Casas in the 7:10 a.m. flight, also on No. 1.
Richard Sinfuego, who blew what had appeared to be a won tournament when he got disqualified, along with Elmer Salvador and Juvic Pagunsan, on a final hole infraction in 2010, is also expected to cash in on the early morning tee-off at 6:50 a.m. along with James Ryan Lam and Jun Bernis.
Like Minoza, Lascuna drew a late tee-time of 10:30 a.m. in the group of Charles Hong and Clyde Mondilla, another local bet, while Salvador is paired with Rufino Bayron and Dante Becierra at 10:40 a.m. on No. 10.