CAGAYAN DE ORO, March 3, 2004  (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - Defending champion Canlubang hopes to firm up its enduring legacy as it goes for a fifth straight title when the 57th PAL Interclub men’s golf championship unfolds in two Mindanao courses here today.

In the absence of a perennial rival and the presence of untested youths from another, the reigning champ expects to find strong opposition from host Del Monte which is waging the most serious bid for a crown from a southern squad.

Venues of the event long considered the unofficial national team championship are the Pueblo de Oro, a six-year-old course built by famed American architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., on a plateau above this bustling city and the tree-lined Del Monte layout in Bukidnon where the Interclub would be won or lost in the next four days.

Still the Sweeties look a cinch to nail their fifth crown in a row and 13th in all since their first championship in 1977.Their depth and experience could well neutralize the edge Del Monte aces enjoy on the course they call home.

"We’re happy of our chances because we’re bringing in the same team that won last year in Davao. But we are not taking the opposition for granted. Anything can happen," said Canlubang skipper Luigi Yulo.

National amateur champion Juvic Pagunsan, fresh from his runner-up feat last week in the Philippine Open, and former caddies titlist Jay Bayron, one of the top five Filipino finishers in the event at joint 16th, will spearhead the Sweeties bid along with veteran Tommy Manotoc.

The other members of the team are Abe Rosal, Jun Bernis, J.R. Tanpinco, Boyet Saragoza, Dave Hernandez, Mari Hechanova and Ronnie Torrecampo.

Del Monte will also bring in the nucleus of the team that finished fourth last year in brothers Ben and Paul Miñoza, Ramon Velez, Tristan Tabanas, Romeo Jaraula, Joel Opaco, Ondoy Mondilla, Lino Retuerto, Jett Plete and Louie Dacudao, a remnant of the Luisita team which is not seeing action.

The Tarlac-based team, runaway winner in last week’s PAL Seniors, took a leave of absence, ending an Interclub era where it emerged third winningest with eight titles since 1969.

"Nakakalungkot nga but it’s management’s decision plus the fact that player movements in recent years kept us from maintaining a highly-competitive team," said national seniors champion Iggy Clavecilla, one of the big guns of Luisita who now dons the colors of Pueblo de Oro.

Ironically, Luisita’s last serious bid for the Interclub title was made over these northern Mindanao venues four years ago when it lost by three points for Canlubang’s ninth title.

But while Luisita was unable to cope with aggressive recruiting of ace players, Manila Southwoods decided to step up its own program, fielding a youth brigade which it hoped would get the exposure it would need for future campaigns.

No other ballclubs has been this bold in forming a team of past and present jungolfers. It has Tonton Asistio, 14, La Salle Zobel’s Mico Alejandro, 15, Michael Bibat, 19, Gene Bondoc, 20, Toro Nakajima,19, former national champion Artemio Murakami, 20, Hanson So, Jr., 24 and Mark Lopez, 25. They will be backed up veterans Junjun Plana and team skipper Jeric Hechanova.

"We are giving exposure to our developmental team because other teams like Canlubang would be slowing down in three or five years time, " said Hechanova.

Three other teams are back to defend their division titles — Cebu Country Club in Founders, Team L.A. (Los Angeles) in Sportswriters and Maharlika in Friendship.

Major sponsors this year are ABS-CBN Global, Airbus, ASUS Notebook PC, CNN International, GE Aircraft Engines Golden Nugget Hotel Las Vegas, Johnnie Walker, Manila Broadcasting Corp., Radio Mindanao Network, Royal Caribbean International and UMBN.

The corporate backers are 105.1 Crossover, Joey 92.3, and 96.3 Wrock, Asia Brewery, Boeing, Boysen Pacific Paint, Century Park Hotel, INQ.7, Jam 88.3, Tanduay and

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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