Miguel Tabuena brims with confidence as he sets out for the ICTSI Luisita Championship beginning today, eager to re-assert his mastery over the field he has beaten twice over at the Luisita Golf and Country Club in Tarlac.
The six-week lull on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour has only made the young gun hungrier for another shot at the crown after romping off with a three-shot win over Clyde Mondilla in the circuit’s kickoff leg at Anvaya Cove Invitational in Bataan last month.
“It’s been quite a while since Anvaya. I really looked forward to the next PGT leg and it’s good to be playing here at home,” said Tabuena, who racked up four PGT victories, including the Central Azucarera de Tarlac here, to claim the Order of Merit crown last year then capped his breakthrough season by winning the Philippine Open, also at Luisita.
That makes him the player to beat in the P3.5 million championship sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc. although a slew of other local and foreign shotmakers are raring to spoil his bid, including Angelo Que, Tony Lascuña, Jay Bayron, Clyde Mondilla and Elmer Salvador and Dutch Guido Van der Valk, Japanese Toru Nakajima and Korean Park Min Ung.
But Tabuena said he’s ready for the challenge, hoping to bank on his impressive record at the tight, par-72 layout, which he has seemed to have mastered in two times it hosted big-time tournaments.
“I hope to play in form here at Luisita,” said Tabuena, vowing to bounce back from a so-so joint 57th at Thailand Classic and a share of 58th at Indian Open the last four weeks. “I enjoy the course and it’s been very good to me. I hope to be able to win again this week.”
But the rest of the 102-player starting field have also set their sights on the top P650,000 purse, guaranteeing four days of top-notch shotmaking in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Summit Mineral Water, Pacsports, TaylorMade, Sharp and Champion.
“I hope people can come out to watch, For sure, there will be a lot of good golf from the guys,” said Tabuena, who has pal Mia Piccio on the bag when he starts at 7:20 a.m. on No. 1 with Mondilla and Nakajima.
Que, hoping to ride the momentum of his final round rally of 65 and a joint fourth finish in India, tees off at 7:15 a.m. at the back with Cassius Casas and Jhonnel Ababa while defending champion Charles Hong drew Korean Chang Chang Guo and Miko Alejandro on No. 1 in the 8 a.m. flight.
Van der Valk will be with Mhark Fernando and Rufino Bayron in the 10:55 a.m. flight, also on No. 1, while Lascuña will play alongside Salvador and the big-hitting Orlan Sumcad at 11:10 a.m. at the back.
Meanwhile, Jobim Carlos finally makes his pro debut after a couple of delays, hoping to start out strong in the company of Dante Becierra and Michael Bibat, while Park, who placed ninth at Anvaya, tees off at 7:55 a.m. at the back with Ferdie Aunzo and Daniel Inocencio of the US.
In other featured flights, Jay Bayron, Canadian Rick Gibson and Robert Pactolerin will start at 11:05 a.m. on No. 1, while veteran Frankie Miñoza drew the last tee-time at 12:15 p.m. with Marvin Dumandan and Aussie Nelson Turner.
The event also serves as a prelude to two Asian Development Tour legs next month, the ICTSI Manila Southwoods Championship on April 13-16 and the ICTSI Sherwood Classic on April 20-23.
Meanwhile, Zanieboy Gialon served notice of his title bid as he led his team composed of amateurs Mario Pangan, Frederick Salonga and Alex Ong to the pro-am title on a 16-under 56, nipping Mondilla and partners Ninoy Palomar, Pykes Fiesta and Romeo Prado in the countback.
Nakajima, along with JA Coching, Nemie Pagtakhan and Julius Coching, finished third with a 58.