The Solaire Philippine Open kicks off its journey to a new century on April 3 at The Country Club with records being eyed and another wild finish seen the way it was in the last two editions of the country’s premier championship.
After etching his name on the record books as Centennial champion with a playoff victory over Thai ace Prom Meesawat last year, Miguel Tabuena shoots for one feat never done the last 60 years – become a repeat winner of Asia’s oldest National Open when the blue-ribbon event, sponsored by Solaire Resort & Casino for the third straight year, is held at the challenging Tom Weiskoph-designed layout.
“We at Solaire are honored to stage last year’s Centennial Phl Open and we are again privileged to be at the helm as the fabled event begins its journey to a new century,” said Thomas Arasi, president and CEO of Solaire, which recently inked a two-year pact with women’s world No. 1 Sung Hyun Park.
Steve Lewton of England also nipped American Johannes Veerman in sudden death in the 2017 Open, also at TCC.
“Our fifth sponsorship of the Open also comes on the heels of our new partnership with Park, who marked her rise to the world top ranking by winning the inaugural The Country Club Ladies Invitational early this month,” added Arasi during yesterday’s press launch at Solaire’s Waterside Restobar.
History also beckons for the rest of the bidders, including those from Thailand, Taiwan, Australia, England, Korea and the US, among others, in the $500,000 event backed by ICTSI and sanctioned by the National Golf Association of the Philippines.
Tabuena, who also topped the rain-shortened Open at Luisita in 2015, is trying to become only the sixth player to win it three times. Outside of 12-time titlist Larry Montes, Celestino Tugot, who won six diadems, including four straight from 1955, and five-time winner JRH Mason, only two others have won it thrice – Lu Liang Huan of Taiwan and legend Ben Arda.
A fired-up 11-player Thailand side is also going flat out for an Open record, seeking to nail the crown that has eluded the country’s perennial regional rivals for the longest time.
Ten Australians, led by Philippine Golf Tour Asia leg winners Damien Jordan and David Gleeson, also set out to secure their 10th Open jewel while 11 players from the US, headed by regular local campaigners Sam Gillis, Lexus Keoninh, Brett Munson, Cory Oride and PGT leg titlist Nicholas Paez are all primed up for a shot at their 27th Open crown in the event sanctioned by the National Golf Association of the Philippines headed by president Martin Lorenzo.
Jobim Carlos, the reigning PGT Order of Merit champion, and Jhonnel Ababa, the winningest player on PGT Asia with three victories, also liked their chances in the upcoming Open.
“The TCC is a tough course especially if the wind pick up. And it’s a great field,” said Carlos. “I just hope to play better.”
“I’ve been playing well in PGT Asia events so I just hope to cash in on the streak and dish out my best,” said Ababa, who scored back-to-back wins at Eagle Ridge and Pradera Verde last year then repeated at the Lubao, Pampanga leg last January.
There is also Juvic Pagunsan, Asia’s former No. 1, who is back to resume his hunt for one championship missing in his vast trophy cabinet.
But the elite field will also have to contend with the dreaded TCC layout, whose length and wind factor put stern options on shotmaking and precision, and whose deceptive greens could make or break one’s title bid.
“With its great lore and history, the Phl Open will always be one of our premier championships and we’re happy to be again the title sponsor and chief backer of this fabled event that continues to draw the best players not only from the region but also from other parts of the world,” said ICTSI and PGTI chairman Ricky Razon, also the man at helm of Solaire operator Bloomberry Resorts Corp.
Colo Ventosa, general manager of PGTI, which co-organizes the event with the National Golf Association of the Philippines, said this year’s cast will feature more than 50 percent of the field which vied last year coming over again, including the local top guns, plus new, strong international players.
“The TCC is in great condition and will be spruced up to championship form in time for the Open. It’s going to be another thinking game with the challenges varying from one hole to another, thus forcing one to consider and take care of his next shot,” said Ventosa.
Lorenzo and NGAP secretary-general Bones Floro, meanwhile, have guaranteed the local golf governing body’s full support to the event backed by Pin High as the event’s official golf apparel, which will feature former champions and mainstays of the other regional tours seeking to join the elite circle of Open winners.
“The NGAP is proud and excited to be partner again with ICTSI,” said Floro, also noting the world’s leading port management’s all out support to golf in all levels.
Other local top guns tipped to contend for the crown are former titlist Angelo Que and former OOM winners Clyde Mondilla and Tony Lascuña and veteran Jay Bayron.
Korean-American Micah Shin, who became the first non-Filipino winner of the TCC Invitational when he foiled Tabuena also last year, is also expected to join the title hunt along with PGT and PGT Asia campaigners Kim Joo Hyung of Korea, Dutch Guido Van der Valk, Nicolas Paez of the US and Aussie Tim Stewart.