Juvic Pagunsan
Rested Pagunsan resumes hunt for 3rd PGT crown
Dante Navarro (Philstar.com) - June 25, 2019 - 2:17pm

ILOILO – Juvic Pagunsan packed his stuff and hurriedly left Bacolod for here Monday, all geared up for a third straight championship in the ICTSI Iloilo Golf Challenge firing off Wednesday at the Iloilo Golf and Country Club in Sta. Barbara.

In fact, the ace Negrense took part in Tuesday’s pro-am to re-familiarize himself with the par-70 layout he hopes to pound with under-par scores the way he did in Bacolod Golf Club and Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club the last two weeks.

The region’s former No. 1 had earlier hinted at skipping this week’s P3 million event after sweeping the Bacolod legs of the four-stage Visayan swing of the circuit sponsored by ICTSI to take a much-needed break. But he decided at the last minute to play and resume his bid to match Tony Lascuña’s three-peat feat at Eagle Ridge, Forest Hills and Bacolod in 2016.

“I have rested and my wife's okay,” said Pagunsan, referring to his spouse, who fell ill last week that also prompted him to reconsider his decision to play and defend his crown in the Negros Occidental Golf Classic.

“Now, I can fully concentrate (on my game) although I don’t want to sound so confident. But as always, I’ll give it my best shot,” added Pagunsan, who hopes to flaunt his shotmaking skills again on a hazard-laden course which requires accuracy off the tee and a solid short game to buck the challenges lurking from the trees, tall hills and rolling terrains.

That makes the 41-year-old Japan PGA Tour campaigner the top favorite in the 72-hole championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc., kicking off his bid for another crown at 7:55 a.m. on No. 10 with yesterday’s pro-am winner Elmer Salvador and Teemu Putkonen of Finland.

But a host of others are also going flat out to foil his bid, including James Ryan Lam and Nilo Salahog, runner-up and joint third placer, respectively, last week, along with Jhonnel Ababa, Tony Lascuña, Jay Bayron, Michael Bibat, Keanu Jahns, Ira Alido, Joenard Rates and Justin Quiban.

“I think I’ll go for the reachable par-4s but I have to play it smart,” said Lam, who actually threatened within one off Pagunsan after 36 holes in Negros but faltered in the third round with a 71 before rallying with a 69 to snare runner-up honors.

Salahog, who also moved within one off Pagunsan in the third round but blew his bid with a closing 73, also exudes confidence despite that shaky finish although he stressed the need to endure the pressure to be posed by the elite field and the short but tricky course.

“I just have to play pressure-free and stay focused in all four days. Just make sure to hit the fairways and greens and make the most of the birdie chances,” said Salahog, seeking a breakthrough in the circuit backed by Custom Clubmakers, Meralco, Champion, Summit Mineral Water, K&G Golf Apparel, BDO, Sharp, KZG, PLDT and M.Y. Shokai Technology, Inc.

Lam drew American Pete Vilairatana, who tied Salahog at third in Negros, and Rates in the 7:35 a.m. group, also on No. 10, while Salahog starts at 7 a.m. on the first hole with Arnold Villacencio and Thai Tawan Phongphun.

Other foreign aces tipped to contend are Aussies Tim Stewart, runner-up to absentee Jobim Carlos here last year, Fidel Concepcion and Calum Juniper, Americans Lexus Keoninh, Greg Gonzalez. Charles Lee and Sean Talmadge and Japanese Ryui Hashimoto, Kei Matsuoka, Kanata Nakagawa and Yudai Suzuki.

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