CHARLES Hong’s joint ninth-place finish in the just-concluded Asian Tour event at Manila Southwoods has made him an instant contender in the P2.5 million ICTSI Wack Wack Championship which unfolds on Wednesday at Wack Wack’s East Course.
If not for a third-round mishap, the 25-year-old Hong would have vied for the crown in the US$750,000 event won by Chinese Liang Wenchong in a playoff over Thai Prom Meesawat at Southwoods’ Masters layout.
“It was hard to tell what could’ve happened if I had a nice third round,” said Hong, who put himself in early contention with 66 and 70 but fell back with a third-round three-over 75 card.
Hong, however, fought back with a seven-under 65 in the final round for a 12-under 276, just four shots off Liang’s winning 272 output, as he emerged the best Filipino player after Angelo Que, who shared the halfway lead, faltered and never recovered.
The Cebuano hopes to sustain his fine form going to the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour’s season-ending championship at Wack Wack where he seeks a second career victory after scoring a breakthrough at ICTSI Pueblo de Oro last year.
But Hong will be facing not just a tough challenge from the elite field in the 72-hole championship sponsored by ICTSI but also from Wack Wack’s fabled East layout, spruced up to championship condition for a true test of golf.
The leading pros actually have only two days of practice at the challenging course, including today’s (Tuesday) traditional pro-am tournament where they will be paired with officials and guests of the event’s chief backers, including Nike Golf, Srixon, Custom Clubmakers, Pacsports, Cleveland Golf, Callaway, Ping, Mizuno, Empire Golf and Sports Shop, FootJoy, Titleist, Sharp, BMW and Gergia Energy Foods.
Miguel Tabuena, back after a series of Asian Tour stints, tries to close out the season the way he started it, with a win as the young gun goes for a follow-up to his runaway victory at ICTSI Sherwood Classic last March.
Jay Bayron, who nipped Tabuena in a playoff to snatch the ICTSI John Hay plum, and Elmer Salvador, the back-to-back winner at Aboitiz Invitational, are also tipped to contend for the top P450,000 purse in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Others in the title chase are Rufino Bayron, Ferdie Aunzo, Anthony Fernando, Jerson Balasabas, Jhonnel Ababa, Jun Bernis, Marvin Dumandan, Zanie Boy Gialon, Rey Pagunsan, Gerald Rosales, Mars Pucay and Richard Sinfuego.
Cassius Casas, who snapped a three-year slump with a playoff win over Clyde Mondilla at ICTSI Canlubang Invitational two weeks ago, is also raring to launch his bid for a second straight crown along with Dutch Guido Van der Valk and Japan’s Tomo Yoshinaga, who are trying to become the first foreign players to win this season.