Archers on target
Miguel Tabuena tries to make up for his last-hole meltdown at Southwoods last Sunday as he shoots for a second PGT Asia crown against a crack international field in the ICTSI Wack Wack Championship reeling off today at WW East course in Mandaluyong.
Tabuena edged Angelo Que by one to rule the kickoff leg of the inaugural staging of the region’s newest circuit, also at Southwoods last August, before the Rio Olympian shifted his campaign abroad in search of world ranking points.
He could’ve headed for this week’s $100,000 event a winner but fumbled at the finish, three-putting the par-5 18th of Southwoods’ Masters course for bogey and missing even the playoff which young Korean-American Micah Shin won over Thai Arnond Vongvanij.
But the 23-year-old former Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit winner shrugged off the setback, saying it was a “learning experience” and instead set his sights on the next PGTA crown to be disputed over a tight, demanding course that requires accuracy more than length.
Emphasis will indeed be on precision with the 106-player field, including 43 foreign aces from 16 countries, bracing for four days of battle of wits and nerves at one of the country’s toughest courses and home to the Philippine Open.
Tabuena, in fact, will be tested right in the first round as he drew former many-time PGT OOM winner Tony Lascuña and PGTA Splendido leg champion Rene Menor in the featured 7:20 a.m. flight on No. 1.
They will be followed by another explosive group composed of newly-crown OOM winner Clyde Mondilla, Michael Bibat and Thai Pasavee Lertvilai, whom Menor nipped in the playoff in Tagaytay
In hindsight, La Salle coach Aldin Ayo thinks the Green Archers could have an easier path to the UAAP Season 80 basketball finals if they fell prey to archrival Ateneo the last time out, allowing the Blue Eagles to earn an outright finals seat and setting up a stepladder semifinals instead of the Final Four round.
If that came into fruition, defending champion La Salle, ranked at second overall, will retain its twice-to-beat advantage against the winner of a knockout showdown between No. 3 Adamson and No. 4 host Far Eastern University initially penciled today.
“Actually, it will be easy for us if we lost,” said Ayo, confident that the Green Archers will have enough time to lick their wounds, pick up the pieces and get themselves all fired-up either against the Soaring Falcons and the Tamaraws this weekend.
However, Ayo knows that there’s a lot at stake especially when La Salle rekindles its rivalry with Ateneo.
“Since it's La Salle and Ateneo, last September.
Mondilla, winner of four legs in the PGT, is actually gunning for a second straight PGTA title after nipping Bibat and Korean amateur Tom Kim at Riviera, also last September, before the circuit, put up by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. took a two-month break.
Justin Quiban, who also turned in an impressive joint fifth place effort at Southwoods last Sunday, is also fancied to contend this week along with fellow young guns Jobim Carlos, Ira Alido and Keanu Jahns. we're not going to back down, we're not going to hold back. We’re just going to compete,” he said.
That’s exactly what the Green Archers did when they mounted a strong fightback from a 12-point deficit early in the final period and turned things around in the last 2:20 of play behind a telling 10-to-nothing windup that left the Blue Eagles stunned.
The come-from-behind victory enabled La Salle to complete its sevengame sweep of the second round and earn another proof that it is regaining its deadly form of old feared by many, including Ateneo.
“I think we're in a very good spot because we're peaking on the right time,” said Ayo. “And the players have been very, very responsible in terms of their commitment to our goal.”
Foremost among them is reigning back-to-back league MVP Ben Mbala, who dished out a monster performance of 28 points, 19 rebounds, six steals and as many blocks, practically doing a little bit of everything like what is expected from him.
Shifty guard Ricci Rivero, who made it to the Mythical Team for the first time, came up big down the stretch where he fired 12 of his 21 points while veteran guard Kib Montalbo bounced back from a forgettable showing the last time out by hitting the go-ahead floater with 40.3 seconds to play.
Their combined exploits, coupled with their collective poise under immense pressure put on by the erstwhile unflappable Blue Eagles, were clearly a sight to behold for Ayo after enduring a rough-and-tumble ride in the first round.
“There were lots of distractions in the first round. But we were able to overcome them, and we were able to focus when the second round them. It's just being focused and being committed to the objective, which is to win the championship,” he said.
Ayo also did his part to fire up the Green Archers after he threw his black jacket in sheer frustration as they stared at a 69-76 deficit following a wild sequence that ended with Blue Eagles forward Vince Tolentino scoring a lay-up with 2:23 to play.
Ayo should be eager to do the same thing on the Soaring Falcons, handled by former La Salle mentor Franz Pumaren who previously steered the Green Archers to five UAAP crowns.
“It will be a dogfight,” said Ayo. “For sure, they’re going to prepare against us. Our last game in the second round was close, it was decided less than a minute or two minutes. So for sure it will be difficult for us. We’re going to prepare against them.”