Elmer Salvador sets out as the marked man but a slew of others, including a strong international field, are expected to get into the scoring act right in the first round of the Aboitiz Invitational beginning today in wet conditions at the Cebu Country Club in Cebu City.
Three runner-up finishes in the last three legs of the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour have made Salvador a lot hungrier for title although the reticent Davaoeño shotmaker remains wary of his chances against a crack field out to foil his back-to-back bid in the $65,000 event serving as the eighth leg of the ADT, a feeder circuit to the Asian Tour.
“There are just too many talented players in the field but the key here will be driving and putting. You have to hit it straight and should be able to set up good birdie chances under preferred lies,” said Salvador during yesterday’s pro-am where he shot five birdies against a bogey in Filipino.
Rains the last few days have rendered the par-72 layout soggy, forcing the organizing Asian Development Tour to apply the winter rules and hinting at a downpour of under-par scores – at least in the first two rounds.
“The nice thing about winter rules is that it would allow players to score low. It would be good if we see scores of 66s or 67s instead of 73s and 74s. Then if the weather improves in the last two days, then it will become doubly interesting,” said CCC golf manager Jeric Hechanova.
Salvador, who placed second at ICTSI Palos Verdes, Del Monte and Pueblo de Oro the last three weeks, also said it could boil down to who could hit it straight on narrow, winding fairways and set up birdie opportunities, especially on reachable par-5s.
“The greens are receptive and I expect low scores at least in the first two days but I hope to finally strike this week after a series of second place finishes on the local circuit,” said Salvador.
The 2009 ICTSI PGT Order of Merit champion draws a 7:50 a.m. tee-off with former ADT leg champion Peter Richardson of England and Wolmer Murillo of Venezuela on No. 10 although focus will be on the day’s featured flight composed of ADT two-leg winner James Bowen and Filipino aces Jay Bayron and Angelo Que at 12:05 p.m. on No. 1.
Bowen is coming off a two-stroke victory in last week’s Jakarta Masters, his second on the ADT after winning the Harvard Masters in Malaysia last February, also making him a marked player in the event sponsored by Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Inc. and backed by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
Also in the fold are Mitsuhiko Hashizume of Japan, who topped the Langkawi Masters in Malaysia last April, Johor Masters champion Grant Jackson of England and former titlists Brian Locke of the US, Dutch Guido Van der Valk and Richardson.
Bayron is also raring to reclaim the crown he won back-to-back from 2010-11 while Que remains confident as ever, hopeful of re-displaying the form that netted him the ICTSI Orchard Championship crown last May.
“I expect a run of under-par scores so it’s going to be interesting,” said Que, also a former three-time Asian Tour seeking his first championship on the ADT.
Other local aces tipped to contend for the crown are reigning ICTSI PGT Order of Merit champion Tony Lascuna and fellow Asian Tour campaigners Mars Pucay and Miguel Tabuena, Marvin Dumandan, Rey Pagunsan, Cassius Casas, and young turks Carl Santos-Ocampo and local bet Charles Hong.
“This tournament will be very special to me since I grew up here, I learned to play golf in this course and most probably, this will be the last time I will play in this course under its present conditions so I might make this opportunity,” said Hong.