SILANG, CAVITE, February 26, 2004  (STAR) By Dante Navarro - Frankie Miñoza pulled out of the DHL-Philippine Open yesterday, leaving the country’s premier golf championship without its top draw and the race for top honors wide open when the first round of the fabled event is staged today at Riviera’s Langer layout.

Miñoza charged that the organizing NGAP (National Golf Association of the Philippines) reneged on its promise to reserve slots for the ace top Filipino shotmaker whose two Japanese guests arrived as early as last week hopeful of a stint in the four-day championship.

"Napahiya ako sa mga guests ko. Imagine, I assured them that they can play but when I confirmed it Tuesday, I was told that there was never arrangement in the first place," said Miñoza. "I didn’t ask for this, it was the NGAP which offered me free slots."

It was actually Miñoza’s business manager, Thirdy Escano, who claimed to have struck the deal with the NGAP but Benny Gopez, chair of the RP Open organizing committee, maintained that he never assured Escano of free Miñoza slots to the tournament, much more foreign amateurs, saying the NGAP had already seeded three of Miñoza’s guests — amateur Artemio Murakami, swing coach Roger Retuerto and brother Peter Miñoza.

"I never assured them of free slots. What I asked Thirdy was the list of Miñoza’s guests. We already accommodated Retuerto, Murakami and Peter and that’s it. We cannot take in as many as they want because we have a limited number of field," said Gopez.

Miñoza’s sudden withdrawal was the latest in a series of problems that have hounded the 88th staging of this event after that much-celebrated change in venue — from Mimosa to Riviera – and Jennifer Rosales’ decision not to play following an invitation from the organizers.

But even without Miñoza, champion here at the adjacent Couples course in 1998, the organizers remain unfazed.

"What does he think of himself, bigger than this institution? If he doesn’t want to play, e di h’wag," said Gopez.

This marks the second time that Miñoza is not seeing action in this event after missing the 2000 edition, which was ironically held here at Riviera’s Langer layout ruled by Gerald Rosales. He was then playing in Japan, his base the last 15 years.

"Except in 2000, I never missed playing in the RP Open. I always saw to it that I am free during the Open week. Kahit na nung amateur pa ako," said Miñoza. "That’s why it’s frustrating that this thing had happened."

Miñoza was actually set to skip the traditional pro-am event and head back home to Cagayan de Oro yesterday but deferred the plan after he read in the papers that he would be playing with former President Fidel Ramos in the one-day tournament.

But it turned out Mr. Ramos, and the other main invited guest — President Arroyo — were not available in the first place since they were also scheduled to grace the EDSA Revolution anniversary celebrations.

That’s one less top contender for the top $24,225 purse in this event which the organizers had hoped to stage in grand fashion after it was shelved last year due to various problems and after it has regained its revered place in the Asian Tour, this being the fifth leg of the current circuit under the players’ group.

This year’s event is also highlighted by the participation of Fil-Am Ria Quiazon, who will go down in history as the first lady player to compete in an all-male event here.

Miñoza’s absence likewise leaves Cassius Casas, Robert Pactolerin and Gerald Rosales — all former champions — as the spearhead of the crack local charge although it was veteran Asian Tour campaigner Danny Zarate who shone brightest yesterday when he ruled the pro-am event with a 65, six-under par over the par 71 layout.

Mars Pucay took second place honors with 66 while unfancied Rey Alit fired a 67 for third in the event played on the blue tees.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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