The Country Club Invitational, long regarded as one of the country’s premier golf championships with its elite participation and rich purse, returns after a two-year hiatus with a promise of another thriller of a finish when it is held February 2 to 5 at the posh TCC course in Laguna.
Cassius Casas outdueled Tony Lascuña in a stirring stretch run duel to win by one and nail his second TCC diadem in 2014 before the P5 million event was shelved to give way to the exclusive Tom Weiskopf-designed course’s renovation.
Since the course has undergone alterations to make it more challenging, expect the four-day battle to be a survival of the fittest especially in the presence of the wind that normally blow from all over at this time of the year.
Seven players have won the TCC crown in its first 12 editions with Japan PGA Tour campaigners Juvic Pagunsan and Angelo Que claiming three each and Casas two. Other champions in the event, put up by ICTSI boss Ricky Razon in 2003 to honor the memory of his father and ICTSI founder Don Pocholo, himself an avid golfer, were Jerome Delariarte, Artemio Murakami, Frankie Miñoza and Lascuña.
As in the past, the upcoming event also serves as the kick-off leg of this year’s ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour with another 16-stage circuit on tap at the country’s various championship courses.
That includes five Asian Development Tour events as the country’s premier circuit, organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., continues to lure the leading and rising players from the region and elsewhere.
Though the TCC Invitational is not included in the annual ICTSI circuit, it remains the most-awaited of all tournaments among the local pros for its prestige and prize money with only the top 30 players from the previous year’s Order of Merit ranking competing for the top P1.5 million purse.
With the Japan PGA Tour still on a break, Pagunsan and Que are expected to lead the chase for a fourth crown, along with the other past winners and the rest of the Top 30 raring to gain a crack at the coveted crown.
Miguel Tabuena, the current toast of Philippine golf, is also tipped to join the hunt coming off two Asian Tour events in Singapore and Myanmar with the 22-year-old ace’s presence to toughen up the already formidable select field.
But Pagunsan and Que, along with Tabuena and the other former TCC winners will be up against an equally talented field – a mix of veteran campaigners and young guns all hungry for title, guaranteeing a tight, spirited battle from the start all the way to the Sunday finale.
They include Clyde Mondilla, Jay Bayron, Elmer Salvador, Zanie Boy GIalon, Orlan Sumcad, Jhonnel Ababa, Jobim Carlos, Jerson Balasabas, Joenard Rates, Marvin Dumandan, Rene Menor, Michael Bibat, Mars Pucay, Charles Hong, Rufino Bayron, Justin Quiban, Mhark Fernando, Arnold Villacencio, Albin Engino and Randy Garalde.
The field also includes five foreign players who finished in the Top 30 in the 2016 OOM, including No. 5 Korean-American Micah Shin, No. 7 Guido Van der Valk of the Netherlands, No. 11 Toru Nakajima of Japan, No. 21 Park Jun Hyeok of Korea and No. 23 Ryoma Miki of Japan.