MANILA, Philippines -- Japan PGA Tour campaigner Juvic Pagunsan makes a surprise appearance on the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour as he joins the P1-million ICTSI Calatagan Challenge beginning Wednesday and turns the battle for top honors wide open at the Calatagan Golf and Country Club in Batangas.
Pagunsan, now based in Japan after copping last year’s Asian Tour Order of Merit crown, opted to take a much-deserved break from the Japan PGA where he turned in three Top 10 finishes in 17 tournaments, including a near-miss in the Japan Open 10 days ago.
He appeared headed for a breakthrough win but dropped three shots in the last two holes and yielded the crown to Kenichi Kuboya. Pagunsan missed the cut the following week at Bridgestone Open in Chiba, prompting him to take a respite and rekindle his ties with the local pros.
Meanwhile, Elmer Salvador also re-joins the ICTSI PGT after a two-month long campaign on the Asian Tour while a host of others, including defending champion Jhonnel Ababa, and first-time winners Carl Santos-Ocampo and Charles Hong, are also in the list, ensuring a battle royale for the top P200,000 purse in this 13th leg of the 15-stage circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Salvador, the winner of the Sherwood Hills Classic and Aboitiz Invitational in Cebu, didn’t have much success with two missed cuts and a best joint 29th finish in Taiwan Masters, although the 43-year-old shotmaker remains one of the chief contenders for the crown in the 54-hole tournament put up by International Container Terminal Services, Inc.
Pagunsan and Salvador will be taking on a field raring to go following a month-long break in the country’s premier pro golf circuit, including Santos-Ocampo, who edged James Ryan Lam and Randy Garalde in a playoff to annex his maiden victory at ICTSI Ranchos Palos Verdes Classic last month.
Santos-Ocampo’s win actually came after Hong, coach of Team South that beat Team North in the country’s version of the Ryder Cup last June, also posted his first victory on the tour backed by Empire Golf, Titleist, Footjoy, Callaway, TaylorMade, Mizuno, Srixon, Nike Golf, Custom Clubmakers and Sharp.
That should make the 24-year-old shotmakers, along with leg winners Marvin Dumandan (John Hay) and Zanie Boy Gialon (Negros Occidental), the players to watch in the event supported by media partners Balls, Studio 23, Pinoygolfer.com and Inquirer Golf.
But the focus will be on Ababa, who routed current Order of Merit frontrunner Tony Lascuna and Mhark Fernando by six to cop last year’s Calatagan stage that capped his three-leg victory in a successful season.
Ababa’s game, however, went on a downswing this year both on the ICTSI PGT and Asian Tour, his joint third place in Iloilo proving his best so far. He actually contented for the crown in the Selangor Masters last month but shot an 88 in the final round and ended up last.
But he expects to be on top this week with the former amateur hotshot hoping to flaunt his familiarity with the up-and-down layout, which he, along with the other former members of the national team, used to call home.
Others fancied to crowd the favorites for the crown are Ferdie Aunzo, Jerson Balasabas, Rufino Bayron, Jun Bernis, Michael Bibat, Anthony Fernando, Artemio Murakami, Elmer Saban, Gerald Rosales and Richard Sinfuego.
Meanwhile, Canlubang will host the penultimate leg on Nov. 14-16 for the ICTSI Canlubang Golf Invitational while Wack Wack will stage the final leg for the second straight year for the rich P2.5 million ICTSI Wack Wack Championship, a 72-hole tournament set Nov. 27-30.