Shootout looms as PH Open unwraps

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Top local Miguel Tabuena hones up his pitching around the practice green as the Luisita course remained close Thursday for maintenance. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Top local Miguel Tabuena hones up his pitching around the practice green as the Luisita course remained close Thursday for maintenance. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

With the skies cleared after days of heavy downpour, the 98th Philippine Open presented by ICTSI finally gets going today (Friday) in Tarlac with the elite field all raring to put on a strong start for the momentum needed in a top-level event reduced to 54 holes.

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A shootout looms right in the first round with defending champion Marcus Both drawing local ace and former Asian Tour No. 1 Juvic Pagunsan and Thai ace Thaworn Wiratchant in the featured 7 a.m. flight on No. 10 of the tight Luisita Golf and Country Club here.

Both, a three-time Asian Tour winner, needs to fire on all cylinders against a talent-laden field which includes talented Miguel Tabuena of the Philippines, Paul Peterson of the US, who is the highest ranked player this week, and multiple winner Gaganjeet Bhullar of India.

The $300,000 Asian Tour event, sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc., was shortened to 54-holes, with the opening round delayed to Friday due to persistent rain. The Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed layout was closed in the last two days and most players will play enter the first day without playing a practice round.

“I played nine holes on Monday and another nine on Tuesday. I’ve seen the course but how much it is going to change with all the rain, we will know tomorrow. Everyone will be going out there like a practice round! Guys will figure out the course by the second round so you need to take advantage of the first day,” said Both.

The Australian dramatically won the Philippine Open last year after losing his Tour card. He is staring at a similar position again where he sits in 132nd position on the Order of Merit and will need a victory to retain full playing rights on the 2016 Asian Tour season.

But he will be up against the smooth-swinging Pagunsan, who hopes to finally nail the major crown missing in his vast trophy collection, and Wiratchant, a former two-time Asian Tour OOM winner, ensuring a spirited battle right in the opener of the event sanctioned by the National Golf Association of the Philippines and backed by the MVP Sports Foundation, Smart, PLDT, Metro Pacific, Amon Trading, Central Azucarera de Tarlac and Ayala Land, Inc. with San Miguel Corp., Suntrust Properties and Sta. Lucia as hole sponsors.

Meanwhile, the 21-year-old Tabuena, who is battling a cold and high fever, will take advantage of his course knowledge after winning here on the local circuit last September with a winning total of 22-under under preferred lies, which will also be applied this week.

“Since it’s preferred lies and the greens are relatively soft due to recent rains, I think the leader will be around 65-66,” said Luisita’s Jeric Hechanova.

Tabuena tees off at No. 1 with Hung Chien-yao of Chinese Taipei and Danthai Boonma of Thailand at 11:30 a.m. while the other local bet tipped to contend for the crown, Tony Lascuña joins Mardan Mamat of Singapore and Paul Peterson of the US at 11:40 a.m.

Cassius Casas, also a former Phl Open winner, tees off 12 noon with Jonathan Moore of the US and Thammanoon Sriroj of Thailand.

The storied Philippine Open has celebrated many worthy champions in the past including Australia’s Peter Thomson, Lu Liang-huan and Hsieh Min-nan of Chinese Taipei, Mamat and Filipino stars Frankie Minoza, Angelo Que, Larry Montes, Celestino Tugot, Ben Arda and Luis ‘Golem’ Silverio, who won as an amateur in 1966.

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