The P2 million ICTSI Camp John Hay Championship reels off today in Baguio with a birdie-binge looming among the cream of the crop or another frenetic finish that has marked the start of this year’s ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour at Splendido last week.
But with the elite field, particularly the long hitters, expected to pound the par-69 Camp John Hay layout made a lot longer by rain the last few days, the battle for the top P360,000 purse could well go down to the last putt the way it did last year.
Jay Bayron rallied from five strokes down then nipped Miguel Tabuena on the second playoff to snatch the crown in last year’s staging of this event sponsored by International Container Terminals Services, Inc. Both finished with 23-under 249 totals.
“This will be a putting contest again,” said Bayron, who closed out with a 10-under 59 last year to force a sudden death. He will be doubly motivated this week following his come-from-behind victory over younger brother Rufino at Splendido where he fought back from nine shots down to win by one.
“It will really be nice if I can score back-to-back here and in the first two legs of this year’s tour,” said Jay, seeking a second Order of Merit (OOM) crown after topping the Pilipinas Golf Tournaments Inc. organized circuit in 2010.
But a slew of fancied bets will be out to foil his bid, including Tabuena and Rufino along with Angelo Que, Elmer Salvador and Tony Lascuña and a host of local and international bets making up the starting field of 86.
“It’s always been a putting contest here at John Hay and the player with the most number of birdies wins. If you can’t putt, then you’re out of it,” said Lascuña, the reigning back-to-back OOM winner.
Salvador, the OOM champion during the tour’s inaugurals in 2009, also predicts a low scoring contest.
But the veteran Frankie Miñoza, winner of three tournaments last year, including two legs of the ICTSI PGT, said it will not just be a birdie contest, stressing the course still poses a challenge despite its short yardage for the pros’ standard.
“It’s not just a question of targeting birdies here. One still has to study the pin placements since John Hay could be dangerous,” said Miñoza.
Whatever, part of the question will be answered today when Jay Bayron tees off with long-hitting Rey Pagunsan and Jessie Balasabas at 8:09 a.m. Minoza, on the other hand, will be with Robert Pactolerin and Canadian Rick Gibson in the 8:33 a.m. group while Lascuna is bunched with Mars Pucay and Swede Malcolm Kokocinski in the 9:24 a.m. flight.
Salvador is paired with Anthony Fernando and Ferdie Aunzo in the 7:06 a.m. group while Rufino Bayron, raring to atone for his monumental foldup at Splendido, takes another aim at a breakthrough win with Gerald Rosales and Paul Echavez at 7:30 a.m.
The 19-year-old Tabuena, slowed down by a bum stomach here last year, drew a rather late tee-time at 11:39 a.m. in the company of Carl Santos-Ocampo and Benjie Magada while Que hopes to start out strong in the 10:36 a.m. flight that includes Michael Bibat and Jun Rates.