With two PGT Asia victories, Jhonnel Ababa is looking not just to contend but win the rich The Country Club Invitational when the P5 million event is fired off February 14 at the TCC course in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
The former national amateur hotshot snapped a three-year title spell with an emphatic seven-stroke victory at ICTSI Eagle Ridge Invitational over Elmer Salvador then edged Aussie Andrew Campbell by two at ICTSI Pradera Verde Classic last month.
“I feel good. I’m so confident and my game is clicking – driving, iron, putting,” said Ababa, after sweeping the sixth and seventh legs of the inaugural PGT Asia and becoming the first player to score a “double” in the inaugural season of the region’s newest circuit sponsored by ICTSI.
Five players split the first five PGT Asia legs late last year with Miguel Tabuena ruling the Aboitiz Invitational at Southwoods, Rene Menor snaring the Splendido crown in a five-hole playoff with Thai Pasavee Lertvilai, Clyde Mondilla reigning at Riviera, Tony Lascuña topping the Wack Wack and Justin Quiban scoring a breakthrough at the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Open at Luisita.
But Ababa opened the new season with those twin wins, easily making him the marked player in the upcoming TCC Invitational put up by ICTSI president/chairman Ricky Razon in 2003 to honor the memory of his father and ICTSI founder Don Pocholo Razon, himself an avid golfer.
Ababa, however, will need more than form and confidence when he slugs it out with cream of the country’s pro crop with the dreaded, wind-raked TCC layout also expected to bring out the best – and the worst – from the elite 30-player field featuring the top 30 players in last year’s Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit ranking and past TCC champions.
Ababa’s best finish in the annual event, organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., was third in 2014 and he finished tied for fifth in last year’s resumption of the event which was shelved for two years to give way to the refurbishment of the world-class TCC layout.
Tabuena, who nipped three-time champion Juvic Pagunsan by one last year to nail his first TCC crown, has confirmed his participation in the 72-hole championship with the Rio Olympics veteran also coming into the event in top form with strong finishes in the Singapore Open and Maybank Open in Malaysia.
Lascuña, winner in 2004, is also raring to snap a long spell in the event along with fellow former champions Artemio Murakami (2009) and Frankie Miñoza (2013) and reigning OOM winner Clyde Mondilla, Zanieboy Gialon, Jay Bayron, Rene Menor, Michael Bibat and Elmer Salvador.
The TCC Invitational will also serve as tune-up for those vying in the grand Centennial Solaire Philippine Open on February 28 to March 3, also at the TCC.