THE Country Club (TCC) Invitational braces for a grand return after a two-year hiatus with the best and the brightest eager and ready to fuel their respective title drive in the richest-ever edition of the flagship tournament of each Philippine Golf Tour (PGT) season.
Featuring an elite cast made up of past winners or the Top 30 players in last year’s PGT Order of Merit (OOM), the blue-ribbon event firing off February 8 will now stake a whopping P6 million in total prizes, topping the previous high of P5 million in the 2020 edition before it was put on hold due to pandemic the last two years.
But the organizing Pilipinas Golf Tournaments Inc., in its continuing commitment to help the pros and the entire golf workforce during the health crisis, still held two tournaments in bubble setup in late 2020 and one in 2021 before staging seven legs last year capped by the first-ever Match Play Championship at the Villamor Golf Club.
Guido Van der Valk topped last year’s PGT OOM by winning two of the six tournaments at various championship courses. The Manila-based Dutchman also edged Clyde Mondilla by one to snare the last TCC diadem in 2020.
That should make him the marked player in the upcoming 72-hole championship although no player holds a distinct advantage over a course long considered as the country’s toughest for its sheer length, unsettling hazards and roughs and sleek putting surface.
Add the wind that come into play in most holes, the TCC indeed serves as a true test of golf for the men of the tour.
One-stroke victories have marked the last four editions of the event, held in honor of the late International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) founder Don Pocholo Razon, with Miguel Tabuena foiling Juvic Pagunsan’s record four-title crack in 2017, Micah Shin edging Tabuena in 2019, and Tom Kim thwarting Keanu Jahns in 2019 before going big-time on the Professional Golfers Association Tour.
Pagunsan and Angelo Que share the most number of wins with three each.
Van der Valk and fellow winners Frankie Miñoza, Tony Lascuna, Pagunsan and Que are expected to lead the hunt for the top P1.5 million prize, along with Mondilla, Zanieboy Gialon, Michael Bibat, Reymon Jaraula, Jhonnel Ababa, Lloyd Go, Ira Alido, Joenard Rates, Ruperto Zaragosa III, Sean Ramos, Rico Depilo, Orlan Sumcad and Jerson Balasabas.
Also in the Top 30 are Gerald Rosales, Jay Bayron, Dino Villanueva, Marvin Dumandan, Fidel Concepcion, Albin Engino, Enrico Gallardo, Richard Sinfuego and Art Arbole.
Former amateur hotshot Mars Pucay is at No. 31 but could gain a spot in case one of the players opts to beg off or fails to confirm their participation before February 3, according to PGTI.
The official practice round is set on Feb. 6 while the traditional pro-am tournament will be held on Feb. 7, featuring a select number of pros and amateur guests of the sponsoring ICTSI.