By Ron Driscoll, USGA
PANAMA CITY, Panama – Alvaro E. Ortiz, 48, the 25-time national champion of Costa Rica, posted an early 4-under-par round of 66 on Friday, then watched as much of the field raced past him in the other direction to take a one-stroke lead into Round 3 of the 3rd Latin America Amateur Championship at Club de Golf de Panama.
Ortiz shared the day’s low score with Andres Gallegos, 21, of Argentina, who was in the same 7:26 a.m. grouping. Gallegos is in a five-way tie for fourth place that includes the first-round leader, Julian Perico, of Peru, who followed up an LAAC-record round of 64 on Thursday with a roller-coaster 75. Herik Machado, of Brazil, and Alejandro Villavicencio, of Guatemala, share second place, with Machado shooting a second-round 67 and Villavicencio following up his opening 65 with a 3-over 73.
For the third consecutive year, Ortiz is the oldest player to make the 36-hole cut, with his best finish a tie for 27th in the inaugural LAAC at Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Perico, 17, was the youngest player in the 108-player starting field. A total of 52 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at 9-over-par 149 on the par-70 course, which played at 6,875 yards in Round 2.
“I played very smart,” said Ortiz, who played college golf at Texas Wesleyan University and works in the real-estate industry. “I’m old enough to know where my weaknesses are and where my strengths are. I only made one mistake, a three-putt on No. 9, so I’m very happy.”
Ortiz expects the challenge to ramp up on the weekend, as the field vies to become the third LAAC champion and earn the opportunity to play in the 2017 Masters Tournament, as well as The Amateur Championship and the U.S. Amateur. The winner and runner(s)-up of the event, founded by the Masters, The R&A and the United States Golf Association, also earn entry into final qualifying for the U.S. Open and The Open Championship.
“The setup the first two days was not the potentially long course that it can be,” said Ortiz, who has served as a mentor to Paul Chaplet, a fellow Costa Rican who won the 2016 LAAC at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. “I’m sure tomorrow is going to be very different and I’m going to be hitting long irons and even hybrids into greens, and I’m going to be ready for that.”
Perico posted the low round of his life on Thursday, a 64 that included an LAAC-record nine holes of 29. He made three birdies on Friday, but also made three double bogeys and a pair of bogeys as he experienced the television spotlight for the first time.
“It was fun, because all the cameras were there, but I was a bit nervous during the round,” said Perico, who attends Bishops Gate Golf Academy in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla. “I was 7 under for the tournament [after birdieing the fifth hole], and I really felt that I was cruising down the course. Suddenly I made a double on 7, and everything just went the other way. It was really an up‑and‑down round, emotionally more than golf‑wise.”
Still, Perico will play in the third-to-last grouping on Saturday, starting at 9:43 a.m. with Raul Pereda, of Mexico, who is at even-par 140, and Jose Luis Montano, of Bolivia, another of the players at 1-under 139. The second-to-last grouping will include Gallegos, Nicolas Echavarria, of Colombia, and Toto Gana, of Chile, all at 1-under 139. Ortiz, Villavicencio and Machado will start at 10:05 a.m. in the final grouping. The top eight players on the leader board represent eight nations.
Joaquin Niemann, the top-ranked player in the field at No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, is in a tie for 15th place at 6 over par after rounds of 72-70, while defending champion Chaplet is tied for 28th at 6-over 146. Inaugural champion Matias Dominguez, of Chile, and Alejandro Tosti, of Argentina, who was runner-up in 2015 and tied for third last year, both stand at 8-over 148, one stroke inside the cut line.
Perico, who iced the middle finger on his right hand after injuring it on his incoming nine, belied his youth as he discussed his performance.
“Now I know what it feels like to play on TV and I know what to do to not make it distract me,” he said. “I made a lot of doubles today, but still, 5‑over with three doubles, it could have been worse. But it could have been way better also.”
Spoken like a golfer who has accepted the challenge of the LAAC.