FILIPINO-CANADIAN IS 2004 WORLD POOL CHAMPION
MANILA, July 20, 2004 (STAR) By Dante Navarro - Alex Pagulayan’s stirring triumph in the just-concluded World Pool Championship in Taiwan was just as surprising as his arrival here yesterday — unexpected and without the usual fanfare normally accorded arriving world champions.
Although so much hype and attention were lavished on the Team Philippines’ Dirty Dozen made up of the best Filipino pool players, it took the reed-thin Pagulayan, a Canadian-based Filipino, to bring home the honors.
"This was the game I’ve been waiting to win my whole life. I’m dedicating my victory to all Filipinos. Next year, I will play for the Philippines," said Pagulayan, who broke into the national consciousness when he barged into the quarterfinal round of the world championship in 1999, the year Efren "Bata" Reyes won in Cardiff, Wales.
The boyish-looking 26-year-old cue master arrived at noon yesterday and was whisked by relatives to his hometown in Cabagan, Isabela for another round of victory jousts.
In fact, for a while he didn’t know where he was headed to upon arriving with billiards patron Aristeo "Putch" Puyat and coach Rolly Vicente.
"Hindi ko nga alam kung sino ang susundo sa akin. Pero kung saan nila ako dalhin eh okay lang," said the Canada-based Pagulayan, perhaps still in shock after pulling off a highly improbable fight back from a couple of six-rack deficits to beat local bet Chang Pei-wei, 17-13, in the final of the $350,000 event.
Or maybe, he was still in a daze or still feeling dizzy, having had a sleepless night in Taiwan where he treated his friends to a victory party until he boarded the PAL flight at 10 a.m.
"I just couldn’t sleep at all last (Saturday) night. I was thinking about Pei-Wei all the time," said Pagulayan.
By this time, however, the bubbly, spike-haired Fil-Canadian, with a princely $75,000 winnings (roughly P4.1 million), must’ve had enough sleep to celebrate his victory with his relatives and fans.
And he’s confident of winning more major titles even as he vows to carry the RP colors when he defends his crown against the world’s best next year.
That’s one talent more in the already formidable roster of Filipino cue artists, who include world No. 1 Francisco "Django" Bustamante and Reyes, whom Pagulayan idolizes.
"I only play for Canada, but I’m 110 percent Filipino," said Pagulayan, whose parents migrated to Canada when he was 13 years old.
But he said he also owed a lot to the Canadian government, which helped underwrite his participation in various international competitions in the past.
Pagulayan was actually one of the Puyat Sports-backed Filipino masters in the event and true to his nature and personality, he quietly worked his way up from the grueling elims to the series of nerve-wracking knockout stages against the best and the brightest pool players in the world.
It was indeed a remarkable rise to the top of the world pool stage for Pagulayan, a losing finalist to German Thorsten Hohmann in Cardiff and given up for dead after trailing Chang, 1-4 and 2-8, in the early going.
But a stroke of luck gave Pagulayan the chance to record a couple of racks although a missed bank shot enabled Chang another chance to take control.
There was a sense that the pattern of play was changing and that proved correct as Pagulayan fought back to draw level at 11-11.
"I wasn’t getting any luck on the break early on so I switched to the soft break when I was 11-7 down. I just had to change something, but once I’d started to make a few run-outs, I went back to the hard break, because soft breaking is bad TV I didn’t want people saying I won because of it," he told worldpoolchampionship.com.
"The key shot was Pei-Wei’s miss on the 2-ball when he was up 11-7. I was thinking, ‘Punish him, punish him.’ From there I got it to 11-11 but missed an easy 2-ball and I wanted to kill myself… with a shotgun so it would be over quick,’ " Pagulayan added.
He failed to seize the initiative from there and it took another five racks before he could regain control for good.
Four more run-outs later and it was all over as Chang, who made only five mistakes all match to Pagulayan’s eight, was denied any chance to return to the table and wrap it all up.
Pagulayan danced before a stunned crowd after sinking the final 9 ball, celebrating the victory he had long dreamed of.
Asked about what he plans to do with his prize, Pagulayan joked, "Are there any casinos around here?" before admitting that he would use $30,000 to clear debts.
"I actually had a large side bet on myself to win the event," he added. "So I practiced so hard, not drank at all and I felt that after reaching the final last year, this was my time."
It was, indeed, his time and his turn to pocket it all.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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