The $60,000 ICTSI Luisita Championship unwraps today with a promise of an early shootout among an elite international field headed by local aces Tony Lascuña and Miguel Tabuena and their foreign counterparts led by Steve Lewton of England and Micah Shin of the US at the Luisita Golf and Country Club in Tarlac.
But it could also be an early test of survival as they slug it out under extreme summer heat although the absence of the wind could also lead to torrid scoring at one of the country’s challenging courses which hosted the Philippine Open in 2015.
Whatever, focus will be on Lascuña as he sets out for a title repeat, while Tabuena and Shin seek to relive their glory days at Luisita and Lewton shoots for another major local championship after nipping American Johannes Veerman in a playoff to nail the Philippine Open crown at The Country Club last March.
The rest of the starting 107-player field is also going all out for a strong start and the needed momentum in this kind of top-notch competition tipped to be tight and fierce from tee-off.
“This is going to be tough. The course remains as challenging as ever and the heat will surely be a factor especially in the final day,” said Lascuña, who ruled this event by six last year to snap his long spell at Luisita.
“I would like to win again here but I have to play solid and steady and I hope my putting will click. I’m focusing on Miguel since he’s in top shape,” added Lascuña, who drew fellow local Edward Reyes and Japanese Joichiro Kawada in the 8:10 a.m. flight on No. 1.
While Lascuña wound up at joint 22nd in last week’s Yaengder Heritage in Taiwan, Tabuena put in a strong tied for fifth effort, making him the player to watch in this 72-hole championship sponsored by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
“I always have the confidence playing in the country, especially here at Luisita. I think I have the edge because I am so familiar with the course,” said Tabuena, who won the CAT (Central Azucarera de Tarlac) Open here then clinched his first Phl Open championship both in 2015.
The 22-year-old shotmaker, who will play alongside Jay Bayron and Elmer Salvador at 11:25 a.m., also on the first hole, is also wary of the heat factor (38 degrees), stressing the need to hydrate from time to time since he just came from Taiwan and Japan (12 degrees).
Shin topped last year’s CAT Open for his breakthrough win on the Philippine Golf Tour with the young shotmaker raring to flash the same form against Mhark Fernando and Orlan Sumcad at 7:50 a.m. on No. 1.
Lewton is also eyeing a strong start against Americano Nicolas Paez and local bet Benjie Magada at 11:05 a.m., also at the front, with the power-hitting Englishman all set for a follow-up to his Phl Open feat with a victory in this event backed by BDO, KZG, Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Sharp, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and PLDT.
Others tipped to contend are locals Clyde Mondilla, 2015 champion Charles Hong, Frankie Miñoza, Jhonnel Ababa, Marvin Dumandan, Michael Bibat, Cassius Casas, Ferdie Aunzo, Mars Pucay and Rufino Bayron and Japanese Toru Nakajima, Dutch Guido Van der Valk, Korean Park Jun Sung and Aussie David Gleeson.