BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — Efren “Bata” Reyes’ old cue stick can still wield tremendous magic.
Unruffled by a cold and shaky start, the Filipino pool maestro thwarted Canadian Gerry Watson, 9-4, yesterday to lead opening round winners in The Manny Villar Cup Panagbenga leg before a huge crowd at the Events Center of SM City Baguio.
The 54-year-old billiards Hall of Famer made a couple of unforced errors in each of the first four racks, allowing Watson, one of two wildcard bets here to surge ahead, 3-1.
Egged on by his throng of fans, however, Reyes dipped into his pocket of tricks to record another escape act that buttressed his worldwide reputation as the sport’s incomparable “Magician.”
A two-time world champion, Reyes ran out the fifth rack and went on to take the next four to seize control, 6-3, and chalk the victory that put him in line for the P300,000 top purse.
“It is cold here that’s why it took me a while to warm up and find my shots,” said Reyes in Filipino. “But Watson is really good and he gave me some trouble. Fortunately, I found my touch midway of the match.”
Watson, a three-time national champion back home, halted Reyes’ onslaught by claiming the 10th rack, only to yield when the charismatic billiards icon again waxed hot.
Former Asian Games champion Gandy Valle also advanced to the second round with a 9-5 victory over qualifier Emil Martinez, 9-5.
Valle breezed to a 4-0 start but Martinez fought back to knot the count at 4-4. Banking on his experience, Valle sealed the match by taking five of the next six racks as he boosted his chances of duplicating his triumph in last year’s Cebu leg of the island-hopping series presented by Senator Manny Villar’s Villards: Tulong sa Pagsulong ng Philippine Sports and supported by Camella Communities.
The former Asian Games gold medalist raced to a 4-0 lead but Martinez managed to tie the count at 4-all, forcing him to utilize his experience to the hilt to score the win.
Other early first round results saw former two-time World Juniors campaigner Rene Mar David thumping Russian Petiza, 9-3 and Egie Geronimo upending Joven Bustamante, 9-5.
A simple opening ceremony, graced by Senator Villar along with Baguio City Mayor Reinaldo Bautista Jr. and Benguet governor Nestor Fongwan, ushered the start of the competition. There, Villar reiterated his all out support to the sport “where we, Filipinos, are on top of the world.”
The Villar Cup Panagbenga leg is part of the city’s month-long flower festival.