This is one Solaire Philippine Open bracing for a classic ending on its Centennial staging.
With a best international cast ever assembled in years, a record prize fund and a dreaded course whose signature final hole could make or break one’s title bid, the country’s premier championship unwraps today with a promise of nothing but a thriller of a finish in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
There’s also the Centennial champion tag to fight for.
The elite 132-player field, including six former champions, 30 mainstays of One Asia Tour, 45 other foreign players from Philippine Golf Tour Asia and the cream of the local pro crop will not only be battling for the top $108,000 purse out of the whopping $600,000 fund put up by Solaire Resort and Casino, but also for history, this being the 100th tournament of Asia’s oldest National Open at The Country Club course.
“There’s no better way to win a premier golf championship than here in the Phl Open where history awaits the winner,” said Tony Lascuña, chasing perhaps the only crown missing in his vast trophy collection.
Former champions Mardan Mamat (2012) of Singapore and Australian Marcus Both (2014) and last year’s winner Steve Lewton of England also seek to become the first repeat winner of the fabled event in the last decade along with local titlists Miguel Tabuena (2015), Angelo Que (2008) and legend Frankie Miñoza, the former Asia’s No. 1 who scored a PH Open breakthrough in 1998 and the last player to win the coveted crown twice in 2007.
“I’m not getting any younger. But I’m always ready for the Phl Open,” said the 58-year-old Miñoza, stressing the younger ones will have an edge over the long, demanding course that measures up to 7,300 yards.
But with the winds not whipping up this week based on the web forecast, a shootout looms among the best of the best in all four days although others note wind condition could change at any given day at the TCC.
Still, the Tom Weiskoph-designed layout, kept in championship form all year long, remains as tough as ever even without the gusts with its sheer length, bunkers, lakes, streams and planted native areas enough to bring out the best – or the worst – in every bidder in the blue-ribbon event serving as the final leg of the inaugural eight-stage PGT Asia and co-sanctioned by One Asia.
There’s also the TCC’s last line of defense, its sleek, undulating putting surface with pin placements expected to be placed on strategic spots in the final two rounds of the tournament sponsored by ICTSI, Meralco, PLDT, Smart, Bulgari, Diamond Motor Corp., BDO, Central Azucarera de Tarlac, Amon Trading, Dynamic Sports and Custom Clubmakers.
But all will aim for a strong start for the momentum and confidence needed in this kind of championship with Lascuña drawing Singapore’s Choo Tze Huang and Thai Namchok Tantipokhakul in the 7:10 a.m. flight on No. 10; Que facing Malaysian Nicholas Fung and Rattanon Wannasrichan, also of Thailand, at 7:30 a.m. on No. 1; and Both taking on reigning PGT Order of Merit Clyde Mondilla and Japanese Toru Nakajima at 7:50 a.m., also on the first hole.
Lewton, who edged American Johannes Veerman in the playoff to snare the crown here last year, will take on Thai Poosit Supupramai and local young gun Justin Quiban in one of the featured late flights at 11:50 a.m., also on No. 1, with Mamat, Miñoza and Thammanoon Sriroj of Thailand grouped in the next flight at 12 noon to be followed by another top group composed of Tabuena, Thai Prom Meesawat and Korean Taehoon Kim at 12:10 a.m.
Mcah Shin, meanwhile, hopes to flash the form that netted him the TCC Invitational crown two weeks ago where he pooled a five-under 283 total to nip 2017 winner Tabuena by one as the lean Korean-American starts at 7:40 a.m. at the back in the company of back-to-back PGT Asia winner Jhonnel Ababa and Thai Niron Sae Ueng.
Others tipped to figure in early contention are Americans John Michael O’Toole, Seungjae Maeng and Nicolas Paez, Thais Wisut Artjanawat, Pasavee Lertvilai and Pijit Petchkasem, Dutch Guido Van der Valk and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez Jr., who father and namesake is a 21-time European Tour champion who also won seven titles in Asia, including a record four title feat in the Hong Kong Open.
The country’s top five amateurs, through the co-organizing National Golf Association of the Philippines, also get a taste of big-time golf with Carl Corpus, Paolo Wong, Luis Castro, Jolo Magcalayo and recent PGT Q-School topnotcher Lloyd Go, all hoping to survive the challenge and make it to the weekend play.