ELMER Salvador rejoins the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour, completing a deep cast of Davaoeno shotmakers tipped to lead the chase for top honors in the P1 million ICTSI Rancho Palos Verdes Classic beginning Wednesday at Rancho Palos Verdes Golf and Recreational Esates in Davao.
Salvador, a former Order of Merit champion, skipped the last ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour leg at Orchard last month due to illness and struggled in his return to competitive golf, finishing tied for 44th at the Queens Cup in Thailand and 62nd at Selangor Masters in Malaysia last week.
But the reticent shotmaker vows to rebound strong this week, along with a slew of top local shotmakers expected to contend for the top P200,000 purse in this fifth leg of the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour.
“I feel good lately but there are a lot of strong players in the fold so I really have to play solid to be in contention,” said Salvador in Filipino.
The 82-player field is indeed teeming with talent.
From local aces Tony Lascuna, the reigning Order of Merit champion, to ICTSI John Hay winner Jay Bayron, to the likes of Jhonnel Ababa, Marvin Dumandan, Ferdie Aunzo, Rufino Bayron and Cassius Casas to title-hungry Michael Bibat, Rey Pagunsan, and veteran Frankie Minoza, the title chase in the 54-hole championship could go down to the last putt.
“Mahirap na mag-predict ngayon, kahit sino pwede nang manalo (It’s tough to predict one’s chances now. Anybody can win),” said Lascuna, who is seeking a follow-up to his runaway victory at ICTSI Calatagan.
Jay Bayron is also out for No. 2 after scoring a come-from-behind victory over Miguel Tabuena in Baguio, while Rufino Bayron and Bibat are all gunning for a breakthrough in the circuit put up by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Minoza is also shooting for a second victory this year after nipping the Bayron brothers in a playoff to capture his first The Country Club Invitational crown last February, while Dumandan and Pagunsan are trying to end a long title drought in the circuit backed by Nike Golf, Empire Golf and Sports Shop, Mizuno, Titleist, Srixon, Foot Joy, Callaway, Pacsports, Custom Clubmakers, Cleveland Golf and Sharp.
Lascuna and Rufino Bayron hope to come up with a strong start in a 7:30 a.m. flight that includes Cassius Casas while Salvador drew a late start at 11:20 a.m. with Reymon Jaraula and Benjie Magada.
Minoza is grouped with James Ryan Lam and Danny Zarate at 11:40 a.m., while Jay Bayron and Rey Pagunsan are bunched with last year’s Pueblo de Oro leg winner Charles Hong.
Carl Santos-Ocampo is also primed up for a second straight championship, hopeful of duplicating his feat last year when he nipped Lam and Randy Garalde on the second playoff hole for his maiden victory. The Fil-Am bet will start at 11:30 a.m. in the group of Aunzo and Christopher delos Santos.
Next up is the ICTSI Del Monte Championship on July 3-5 I Bukidnon, while the ICTSI Pueblo de Oro Championship will be held July 10-12 at Pueblo de Oro.