Winner of three PGT Asia events, Jhonnel Ababa hopes to keep his run of good fortune on the newest regional circuit as he shoots for another crown in the ICTSI Pradera Verde Classic which gets going Jan. 16 at the Pradera Verde Golf and Country Club in Lubao, Pampanga.
The former amateur hotshot actually heads to the $100,000 championship hard-pressed to retain the crown he won last year, ranged against a crack international cast, led by long hitters whose games suit best at the flat, open par-72 layout.
But the diminutive shotmaker is more than ready to take on the best with a game he honed up during the holiday break and his good vibes on the circuit put up by ICTSI in late 2017 to provide the local pros and foreign campaigners to hone their games in preparation for other pro circuits in the world.
“I think I’m lucky playing on PGT Asia,” said Ababa, who came out of a crowded leaderboard in the final round to snare the ICTSI Forest Hills Championship crown last year. He also ruled the Eagle Ridge stop of the inaugural circuit.
But in his crack at a fourth PGTA crown, Ababa will have to hurdle a host of talented rivals, including those from Thailand, headed by Wisut Artjanawat, Pasavee Lertvilai, Poosit Supupramai and Thammanoon Sriroj and Aussies Clayton Bridge, Nathan Park, Simon Viitakangas and Andrew Campbell, who Ababa beat by two at Pradera last year.
Others tipped to contend for the top $17,500 purse are Sydney Chung, Dylan Jackson, Andy Kang and Lexus Keoninh of the US, Englishmen Benjamin David, Joe Knox and George Twyman, Keisuke Takahashi of Japan, Korean Hwang Myung Chal, Spain’s Salvador Paya Vila, Peter Stojanovski of Macedonia and Manila-based Dutchman Guido Van der Valk.
The Filipinos ruled the last two PGTA events with James Ryan Lam nailing his maiden win at the CAT Open at Luisita last October and Joenard Rates scoring his scored career victory in the Summit Point World 18 Challenge last November with the local bets, including Ababa, ready to defend their turf in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Other top locals seeing action are Jay Bayron, Jerson Balasabas, Tony Lascuña, Michael Bibat, and Elmer Salvador and young guns Justin Quiban, James Ryan Lam, Ira Alido and Keanu Jahns.