Jaime J. Bautista, Philippine Airlines president and chief operating officer, hits the ceremonial tee off for the regular event of the 62nd PAL Interclub Golf Tounament at the Apo Golf and Country Club in Davao. Joey Mendoza]

DAVAO, PHILIPPINES, FEBRUARY 25, 2009 (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - Faced with the toughest opponent ever to challenge its reign and reeling from its scrambling finish in the Seniors event, defending champion Canlubang hopes for a strong start from its first team when it battles The Country Club today in the 62nd PAL Interclub men’s regular golf championship at Rancho Palos Verdes here today.

Canlubang is gunning for its 16th men’s crown and fourth title double, the first feat achieved after rallying from 18 points in the first day to claim a down-to-the-wire triumph over archrival Luisita last week.

And the lesson is not lost on the Sugar Barons as they face off with the newcomer team in what could be the beginning of a new Interclub rivalry between two neighbor clubs three kilometers apart in Laguna.

“It’s a formidable adversary. We hope to shoot well in the first day especially with an opponent like this. Mahirap maiwanan (It will be hard to be left behind),” said Canlubang skipper Luigi Yulo.

A shootout is expected over the Pete Dye-designed layout with undulating terrains with Canlubang ready to field former pro Dave Hernandez, Paul Echavez, Jessie Balasabas, new recruit Alvin Engino and Mark Fernando and reserve its powerhouse unit of Davao aces – Jonel Ababa, Mario and Joseph Labajo, Zanie Boy Gialon together with the veteran Tommy Manotoc for the crucial skirmishes at the tough Apo course.

The TCC team will open its bid for history as the second team to win on its first attempt with former amateur titlist Anthony Fernando, Tonlits Asistio, Dante Becierra, jungolfer Jobim Carlos and Paul Huerva.

Reigning national champ Ferdie Aunzo, who is playing in his last tournament before turning pro, will head the TCC cast of Apo aces together with Putra Cupper Rufino Bayron and Peter Villaber, former Canlubang mainstay JR Tanpinco and Art Arbole.

“We may have guys familiar with the difficult layout of Apo but it does not guarantee that we’ll run them out easily. It’s going to be a tough series,” said TCC team captain Freddie Mendoza.

Mendoza is confident the TCC first team “will match up well with Canlubang. The competition will boil down to who gets the most out of the second unit.”

It will be a showdown like no other right on the opening round with the Barons, the winningest team in the fold – ruling seven of the last nine championships, going up against the TCC squad out to duplicate Canlubang’s mark as the first rookie titlist.

“The first day is always important because Palos Verdes is a scoring course and we will field people whose game favors Palos while in Apo the steadier players will do well because there’s so much pressure playing there,” said Yulo.

Two-time titlist Southwoods hopes to figure well despite its ranks being depleted with the loss of a number of top guns and will rely on old hand Erwin Vinluan, Jun Jun Plana, Justin Limjap, Jeric Hechanova and the young Miko and Miggy Yee.

Del Monte, which broke into the winner’s circle with a remarkable performance in 2004 in its home turf, is not fancied this year with a slew of young players being given exposure in the meet.

“We’re on a rebuilding process,” said Del Monte skipper Yoyong Velez.

Meanwhile, the traditional hitting of ceremonial drives yesterday officially kicked off the four-day tournament at the Apo course.

Those who did the honors were PAL president Jaime J. Bautista, Davao City Chamber of Commerce president Simeon Marfori, Councilor Bonifacio Militar representing Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, North Cotabato Vice Gov. Manny Piñol, Rancho Palos Golf and Country Club independent board director Nonoy Llamas, Apo GCC grounds director Edwin Villarino and tournament committee chairman Domingo Duerme.

ABS-CBN Cable Channels & Print Media Group, Airbus, Boeing, Business Mirror, Mizuno, MTV Philippines, Radio Mindanao Network and Solar Sports are platinum sponsors of the PAL Interclub.

Action Asia, Bombo Radyo, Crossover 105.1, People Asia, Royal Caribbean and XFM 92.3 are the major sponsors with the Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corp., Rajah Broadcasting Network and Century Park Hotel the other supporters. Honda Cars Davao and Honda Megamotors Corp. are the hole-in-one sponsors.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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