By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Alvaro Ortiz has been waiting a year for this day.
What many would expect to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – to compete in the Masters Tournament, The Amateur Championship and the U.S. Amateur – had slipped past in 2017, when Ortiz, of Mexico, lost out on the second playoff hole of the Latin America Amateur Championship to Toto Gana of Chile.
One year later, that opportunity has returned.
“I have literally been thinking about getting back into this position for a whole year,” admitted Ortiz, 22, a native of Guadalajara and a senior at the University of Arkansas. “I am an emotional player and what I have learned in the last year is that I have to go into [Tuesday’s] round with a full tank of patience and to really control myself on the course. I’m looking forward to it.”
Ortiz enters the final round at Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago, Chile, at 4 under par, with a one-stroke lead over four players, including defending champion Gana and world No. 1 amateur Joaquin Niemann, who also lost out in last year’s playoff. In 2017, Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead at Club de Golf de Panama with Gana, and he and Gana matched rounds of 71 while Niemann matched the others at 1 under par for 72 holes with a closing 70.
Gana had to hole a 15-foot par putt to stay alive on the first playoff hole, then he hit the most dramatic shot of the LAAC to date, a 52-degree wedge approach to 2 feet that sealed his victory and the accompanying berth in the Masters. The winner of the championship, and the runners-up, also earn berths in final-stage qualifying for The 147th Open at Carnoustie and sectional qualifying for the 118th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.
In Monday’s third round, Ortiz showed resilience by overcoming wayward tee shots down the stretch. He scrambled for pars from the trees on holes 16 and 18, and after several of the other contenders bogeyed No. 18, he held the solo lead.
On Tuesday, Ortiz and Gana are joined by Daniel Gurtner (3 under), of Guatemala, in the final grouping, starting at 9:08 a.m. (Chilean Time). Niemann and second-round leader Jaime Lopez Rivarola (3 under), of Argentina, and Camilo Aguado (2 under), of Colombia, are in the penultimate grouping. The final round is televised on ESPN from 10 a.m. to noon EST on ESPN2 in the United States.
Ortiz shot a closing round of 5-under 67 in the inaugural LAAC at Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but he was not really part of the stretch run as Matias Dominguez and Ale Tosti battled for the title.
In 2017, the victory was within reach, and he plans to rein in his emotions more fully than he did in Panama.
“I am a very emotional player, but I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience,” said Ortiz, the younger brother of Carlos Ortiz, 26, who competed for two seasons on the PGA Tour and finished second in last week’s Web.com Tour event in the Bahamas. “What I’ve learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I am more mature and I’ve learned how to control myself on the golf course.”
When asked about those pesky emotions, Ortiz did not run from his feelings.
“I believe that ‘temper’ is what allows me to be here today,” said Ortiz, who has moved from No. 250 to No. 160 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking over the past year. “It’s what motivates me to practice even more. But I believe that last year it affected me on the last three holes. (Today)I have to go out with full patience in the face of everything that’s going to be happening.”
Ortiz expects the outcome to be decided over the closing holes, because of the Prince of Wales course, and because of his brother’s counsel.
“More than anything, he tells me that the tournament really starts on the back nine,” said Ortiz. “And I feel like the last four holes here are almost like a different course. It forces you to hit quality shots. I feel like my short game and my putter are what allowed me to be in this position, my putting especially. It gives me a lot of confidence.”
Alvaro was expecting to hear from his brother on Monday evening, if succinctly.
“We don’t really talk about golf that much,” said Ortiz. “He’ll probably send me a text of support tonight, like, ‘Come on, keep calm, you got it.’”
There is no question that he’s got the opportunity – again.
Facts and Figures
- 18, a 497-yard par 4 with a water hazard at the front right of the green, has played as the most difficult hole of the championship through three rounds, capping the daunting closing four holes to which Alvaro Ortiz referred. Through 54 holes, No. 18 is playing to a 4.60 stroke average while yielding just 12 birdies and combining for more over-par scores (135) than pars (105).
- The par-3 15th hole, which has played from 202 to 220 yards, is the second-toughest hole through three rounds, at a 3.57 stroke average. It has allowed the fewest birdies of any hole (7). The par-4 16th and 17th holes are the fifth- and sixth-hardest holes for the week, at 4.39 and 4.34 stroke averages.
- The three par-5 holes – Nos. 3, 9 and 14 – are playing as the three easiest holes for the week, and are the only three holes playing to an under-par stroke average.
- Should there be a playoff to decide the winner, it will start on No. 18, and No. 18 will be played repeatedly until there is a winner.