CAGAYAN DE ORO, March 6, 2004  (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan — Nothing moved on moving day for its rivals. And that moved Del Monte on the threshold of Interclub history.

The host team exploited its home course edge anew and showed some resiliency in the rains, keeping a seven-point lead over the young Manila Southwoods on the third round yesterday of the 57th PAL Interclub golf team championship at the Del Monte course.

Del Monte’s crack first team made its charge on the rugged backnine of the heavily wooded course for another 141 card and a three-day output of 438, seven points ahead of the Southwoods (141-431) which had hoped but failed to gain on the leaders on the crucial round.

Defending champion Canlubang also loaded up for its make-or-break bid but was not up to the task and its storied reign – earning 12 titles and four straight crowns – has come to an end. It could only show 136 for 416, 22 points behind the host team.

Now Del Monte is a day away from claiming its place in Interclub history as the first Mindanao team to win the crown in 57 years and the squad has assembled another solid team to put the finishing touches to a great triumph.

"We will stick to our plan and do it shot by shot and play the course. I told the boys to just be yourselves and we will win this tournament. We’re confident because we will have a stronger team," said Del Monte skipper Ramon "Yoyong" Velez.

The 35-year-old Romeo Jaraula, who torched his home turf with a sensational 43 points – seven-under par 65 on medal play in the first round, led the Del Monte parbusters with a 37 while Lino Retuerto, son of swing guru Roger Retuerto, matched par 36. The 34s of Arsenio Mondilla and Ben Mińoza counted and Joel Opaco’s 32 was out of the team card.

Incessant rains, unusual at the advent of summer here, made the rugged terrains even tougher, and the difficult conditions took their toll on the youth squad of Southwoods and Canlubang as action swept into the rolling backside of the post-war layout

Japanese teener Toru Nakajima, who had a stirring three-under 39 on the first round, made a 37 while Hanson So, Jr. added a 36. Tall Michael Bibat, another 19-year old, had 35 and Tonton Asistio, at 14 the youngest in the field, had 33 while Miko Alejandro didn’t count with a 30.

"Win or lose this is victory for us," said Southwoods team captain Jeric Hechanova, underscoring the team’s sustained scoring which was missing in past Carmona teams.

Southwoods had been a serious contender in past Interclubs but didn’t have the talent and the strength to cope with Canlubang’s charge down the stretch. Last year, the Sweeties pulled off a 20-point winning margin (542-522) over Southwoods for its fourth straight title in Davao.

"We will try our best, seven points is not a comfortable lead but we will not put pressure on us by going for the title. We’re here for the experience in the first place," said Hechanova, who acted as "baby-sitter" to his wards.

Going for broke this time, the Sweeties brought in Juvic Pagunsan, Jay Baron and Dave Hernandez to stop the bleeding but the three could only respond with a couple of 33s and a 35. Ronnie Torrecampo submitted a 35 and national team player Boyet Saragosa didn’t count with 30.

"The team is playing that bad, the others are just super. What’s happening here, with good young players doing well, is a positive sign for Philippine golf. It’s a changing of the guard," said Canlubang’s Tommy Manotoc.

Manotoc himself will spearhead the Sweeties last-gasp bid at Pueblo, hoping to brandish the same splendid shotmaking that produced 40 points four years ago that propelled Canlubang to a three-point win over Luisita.

But Del Monte is keen and mean for its first Interclub crown and Velez said they would send "a stronger team" to finish the job.

The 42-year-old legal counsel of the firm, who led the team in scoring here Wednesday, will see action together with Louie Dacudao, Paul Mińoza, Tristan Tabanas and Jett Plete.

In the Founders Division, host Pueblo de Oro pulled away for a 12-point edge over Wack Wack and Forest Hills with an impressive 124 card. Wack Wack had 114 and Forest Hills 120 for 366 while Riviera had 122 for 360.

Negros was holding a precarious two-point lead over John Hay with 108-337. John Hay had 122 for 335. Team L.A. is at third place with 325 following 107 in the round..

In the Friendship class, Alta Vista and Philippine Navy were going mano-a-mano with 283 cards after the Navy squad rallied with 109 against Alta Vista’s 99. Mactan Coral and Pittsburg were also tied at 276 on 89 and 113, respectively. Major sponsors this year are ABS-CBN Global, Airbus, RJ 100FM, 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 www.philstar.com are the other sponsors.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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