Miguel Tabuena tries to pick up from where he left off, leading a compact field chasing top honors in the rich ICTSI Luisita Championship which gets under way on Tuesday at the fabled Tarlac layout.
The two-time Philippine Open champion topped the last Philippine Golf Tour leg at Eagle Ridge last year before the circuit went on a year-long hiatus due to pandemic and other concerns. He shifted his campaign abroad, winning his first US title in the Idaho Open last September but struggled in the Asian Tour restart where he tied for 36th in the Laguna Phuket Championship in Thailand last December.
He hasn’t seen action this year, skipping a couple of Asian Tour events and marrying his longtime girlfriend in the US last February.
But he stayed in shape during the break, building up on strength and length which he hopes to flaunt in this week’s P2 million, 72-hole championship marking the start of the new season of the PGT as well as that of the Ladies PGT, which also kicks off its 54-hole tournament tomorrow.
But Tabuena will be facing a slew of rivals who are all coming into the event with lots of enthusiasm and hungry for recognition, including multi-titled Tony Lascuña and former Philippine Open titlist Clyde Mondilla and legend Frankie Miñoza.
Others in the fold are Anthony Fernando, Gerald Rosales, also a former Phl Open champion, Manila-based Dutch Guido Van der Valk, Reymon Jaraula, many-time PGT champion Jay Bayron; former Masters titlist Jerson Balasabas, Joenard Rates, Marvin Dumandan, Mhark Fernando, Michael Bibat, Mars Pucay, Rufino Bayron and Rupert Zaragosa.
Meanwhile, the top draws in the Ladies PGT brace for a battle royale with Princess Superal expecting a shootout with reigning Order of Merit winner Harmie Constantino, leg winners Sunshine Baraquiel, Chanelle Avaricio, Daniella Uy and multi-titled Chihiro Ikeda.
“We’re very grateful for the return of the circuit and this is a good opportunity for us to toughen up and prepare for our future international sorties,” said Superal, who won three of the first five LPGT events under the bubble setup organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., maintaining she remained in top shape despite skipping the last five legs of the 2021 season.
“I’m very consistent with my practice and workouts and I’m excited to play,” added the 2014 US Girls’ Junior champion.
Ikeda spent the long break in Davao but regularly trained at Apo and headed back to Manila following the announcement of the Tour’s resumption following a five-leg swing to close out the 2021 season.
“I practiced often at Apo to maintain my form and I hope to perform my best. But I am more excited to see everyone in the field again,” said the former SEA Games individual champion, who last won at LPGT Midlands in 2019.
Baraquiel, who scored a breakthrough in tough conditions at Midlands last year, also toughened up during the lull, working out with swing coach Carito Villaroman and looking forward to a strong performance this week and in the next legs of the circuit put up by ICTSI.
“I’m sure everyone worked hard during the break,” said Baraquiel, who is also gearing up for another crack at the LPGA Q-School later this year. “I’m excited about the resumption and competing here is a great way for me to prepare for the Q-School again.”
On the crack LPGT roster, the lady pilot said: “The more good players there are in the field, the better it is for everyone because it is good competition. There’s also a lot to learn from playing with many good players and it’s a good way to assess the different parts of my game and how I can improve on them.”
Spicing up the cast are Sarah Ababa, Florence Bisera, Apple Fudolin, Lovelynn Guioguio, Pamela Mariano, Eva Miñoza, Marvi Monsalve, Majorie Pulumbarit, Keena Puzon, Gretchen Villacencio, Sheryl Villasencio and Korean Jane Jeong.