MIGUEL Tabuena firms up the ICTSI Forest Hills Championship field following the last-minute withdrawal of Angelo Que, hoping to provide stiff challenge to the men of the tour when the P3 million event is fired off Wednesday at the Forest Hills Golf and Country Club in Antipolo.
Though Tabuena is coming off a mediocre joint 47th finish in the Lyoness Open in Austria and a missed cut stint at the Queens Cup in Thailand the last two weeks, the 22-year-old former Philippine Open champion remains the marked player in the 71-roster cast owing to his talent and skills.
The 2015 Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit winner rallied from behind to snare the Luisita Championship in Tarlac last May then resumed his overseas campaign in a bid to gain world ranking points, including stints in the European Tour, the Japan PGA and the Asian Tour.
But a break in the circuits abroad made himself available for this week’s battle and he will be as much tested as the rest of the elite field right in the opening round where he is pitted with reigning OOM champion Tony Lascuña and Zanieboy Gialon, winner of the last PGT leg at Calatagan two weeks ago, in the 8 a.m. flight on No. 1.
“Puro bigatin ang kalaban,” said Gialon, who beat Jhonnel Ababa by six to snap a three-year title spell in the circuit sponsored by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. “But I’m ready and hope to deliver again.”
Lascuña is also raring to end a string of runner-up finishers in the first half of the 14-leg tour.
Que, runaway winner in this year’s PGT kickoff leg at Anvaya, has earlier confirmed his participation but backed out at the last minute, citing the need to rest following a series of tournaments in the Japan PGA Tour, where is based, and last week’s Asian Tour in Thailand, where he finished tied for sixth after leading the field midway of the final round.
Though his colorful presence will be missed, the depth of the field remains as talent-laden as ever with two-leg winner Clyde Mondilla also resuming his hunt for another crown, veterans Jay Bayron, Elmer Salvador, Frankie Miñoza, Rufino Bayron, Mars Pucay and Ferdie Aunzo looking to flash vintage form, and young guns Jobim Carlos, Ira Alido, Keanu Jahns, John Kier Abdon and Justin Quiban going for their maiden win.
A slew of foreign players are also in the fold, all going all-out to spoil the local aces’ title drive in the four-day championship backed by Custom Clubmakers, BDO, Meralco, Sharp, KZG, PLDT, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and K&G Golf. They include American Nicolas Paez, Korean Park Jun Sung, Aussie Nathan Park, Macedonian Peter Stojanovski and local-based Dutch Guido Van der Valk.
Mondilla, who scored back-to-back wins at Southwoods and Villamor following a runner-up finish at Orchard, drew Salvador and Paul Echavez in the 8:20 a.m. group, also on No. 1, while Jay Bayron, winner of two legs last year, will start ahead of Tabuena’s group at 7:50 a.m. in the company of Miñoza and Mhark Fernando.