ALL eyes will be on Juvic Pagunsan as he returns to the Philippine Golf Tour, seeking a victory on the very course where he honed his game and won the Philippine Amateur crown in 2006.
The smooth-swinging ace, who has made the Japan PGA Tour his base the last few years, is on a break from the lucrative circuit and on the roster of the P3.5 million ICTSI Negros Occidental Classic, which gets going on Wednesday at the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club in Bacolod.
Pagunsan last saw action in The Country Club Invitational last year, losing to Miguel Tabuena by one in a thrilling final-round duel. He last won in 2015 in the Aboitiz Invitational, beating Thai Nirun Sae-ueng by eight at Manila Southwoods.
Despite his long absence on the ICTSI-sponsored local circuit, which he also dominated in its early staging, the former Asian Tour Order of Merit topnotcher, who hails from nearby Murcia town, is expected to crowd the big guns and tour veterans for top honors this week.
He drew a midday tee-time on No. 1 in the company of Jama Reyes and Japanese Yu Ikeda but is nevertheless tipped to flash his local knowledge of the tree-lined, hazard-laden course.
But the stellar international field is unfazed by his presence with young Justin Quiban all focused on nailing a second straight diadem in the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. after dominating the field in the Bacolod Golf Challenge last week.
“I hope I can do it back-to-back,” said the 22-year-old Quiban, who beat veteran and multi-titled Jay Bayron by five at the Binitin layout. “I know I can measure up with the best and I’m in good shape.”
Quiban start early on No. 1 with Albin Engino and James Ryan Lam.
Lexus Keoninh of the US led amateurs Santino Tabora, Nicolo Torre and Angelo Uichico to the pro-am crown with an 18-under 52, edging Engino’s team of Tess Mendell, Ma. Fe Benedicto and Jhay Broad by one.
Jobim Carlos, winner of two tournaments and with a slew of top five finishes in the last two months, lost to Engino’s squad in the countback and settled for third with a 57 in the company of Leonard Gonzaga, Tommy Gonzaga and Ricky Millan.
Tony Lascuña is also upbeat of his chances to end a long title spell with the former three-time PGT Order of Merit champion putting premium on precision and putting.
“It’s pretty much the same on shotmaking. So it will be a question of who hits better on approaches and putting. The greens are good and if I putt much better, I think I can be able to win the championship. Putting is the key is the key here,” said Lascuña, who will play alongside Joenard Rates and Korea’s Kim Joo Hyung in the 10:50 p.m. flight on No. 1.
Focus will also be on Kim, who is back in the PGT hunt after winning his first pro crown at Pueblo de Oro last month, becoming the youngest winner in the circuit, backed by BDO, KZG, Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Sharp, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and PLDT, at 16.
Bayron will start with Richard Sinfuego and Johvanie Abaño, while Carlos has been grouped with Philippine Masters champion Jerson Balasabas and veteran Elmer Salvador.