World No. 1 Niemann Roars Back into Contention at LAAC; Jaime Lopez Rivarola Claims Lead; Defending Champion Gana Shares Second

World No. 1-ranked men’s amateur Joaquin Niemann rallied in today’s second round of the 2018 Latin America Amateur Championship with a seven-under-par 64 that leaves him one shot off the lead at the halfway stage.

The Chilean, who lost in a playoff to compatriot Toto Gana in Panama last year, bounced back from a disappointing opening-round 74, improving by 10 strokes Sunday at Prince of Wales Country Club. The 19-year-old holed out from a greenside bunker to eagle his final hole, the par-5 9th, and capped a fine round that featured five birdies in his opening seven holes.

The 36-hole lead is held by Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola, who moved to five-under-par for the championship with a 68 that included three birdies on his second nine against just one dropped shot. The 22-year-old graduated from the University of Georgia last year and represented his country in the World Amateur Team Championships in Japan in 2014.

Gana shares second with countryman Niemann after a one-under-par round of 70. The defending champion had another eventful round that featured six birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey.

Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz is a stroke further back at three-under-par after a frustrating finish that saw him drop two shots in the last two holes for a one-under-par round of 70.

Another Mexican, Mario Carmona, is among a group of five players at one-under for the championship: Argentina’s Andy Schonbaum and Mateo de Fernandez de Oliveira, Daniel Gurtner from Guatemala, and Jorge Garcia from Venezuela.

The halfway cut for the championship fell at eight-over-par with 52 players making it through to the final two rounds Monday and Tuesday.

Exemptions for Champion and Runner(s)-up:

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to compete in the 2018 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, as well as full exemptions into The Amateur Championship, U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible. In addition, the winner and the runner(s)-up will be exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The 147th Open at Carnoustie and the 2018 U.S. Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills.


Quotable:

Jaime Lopez Rivarola, 22, Argentina: “This is my fourth Latin America Amateur Championship, so what I’m doing different this year is not trying to think ahead of what’s going to happen later on. I try to stay in the present and know that, even though I am a leader by just one stroke, it doesn’t mean much.  I have to stay in the present and try to do my best the next two days. The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there.  I’ve played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing.  I have been to the Masters, and I’ve watched the players play during the practice rounds.  But [competing would be] a completely different thing.”


Joaquin Niemann, 19, Chile:
“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that’s usually what happens in my case.  When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation.  I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf.  The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf … I was standing on the tee on the ninth hole [his last hole of the round] and I said, ‘All right, do something good here to close a good round.’  So, I hit a pretty good iron, but I ended up in the bunker, and my last thought was that the last time I had been in a bunker, I didn’t score very well from there. I said this time, I have to do my best.  I have to really make a good shot. My idea was to leave it close to have a birdie, but it just went out and it disappeared.”


Toto Gana, 20, Chile:
“In the beginning of the round…it wasn’t a good feeling.  When I made the double on 13 … I said, ‘Okay, this is the moment that I have to prove myself.  I have to put all my heart on the course.  I have to do my best.’ And that’s what I did.  I made birdie on 14, 17 and 18 to finish four under total and be second. I feel better as the past champion because I don’t have pressure.  I just have to play my game.”


Alvaro Ortiz, 22, Mexico:
“Today’s round was difficult. I wasn’t able to hit fairways off the tee, something that is key on this golf course because it’s very difficult to make birdies from the rough. The good thing is that I played well on the greens. I got to four-under fast, but I didn’t finish well with those two bogeys. I’m close to the leader and I can’t wait until tomorrow’s round.”


Notable:

  • The 36-hole score of leader Jaime Lopez Rivarola of Argentina (137) is one stroke off the record total of 136 by Andre Tourinho of Brazil in 2015.
  • Defending champion Toto Gana of Chile leads the field with 12 birdies (six in each round) through 36 holes.
  • A second-round seven-under-par 64 by World Amateur Golf Ranking No. 1 Joaquin Niemann (Chile) tied the LAAC record for Low 18. He now shares the mark with Julian Perico’s (Peru), who shot 64 in the first round in Panama in 2017.
  • The 64 is also a record for Low Second Round at the LAAC. The previous mark was held by Matias Dominguez (Argentina) in 2015, Ale Tosti (Argentina) in 2016 and Nicolas Echavarria (Colombia) in 2016.
  • Niemann’s 64 was just three strokes off the competitive record at Prince of Wales Country Club, which is a 61 by Kevin Kisner of the USA in the third round of the 2013 Chile Classic on the Web.com Tour.
  • Niemann started on Hole 10 and he played the outward nine in 31, tying the LAAC record for lowest first nine holes with Joaquin Bonjour (Argentina – third round in 2015) and Miguel Ordonez (Panama – first round in 2017).
  • Niemann’s seven birdies in the round was two off the LAAC record of nine held by Joaquin Bonjour (Argentina, 2015, Rd. 2) and Ale Tosti (Argentina, 2016, Rd. 2).
  • Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira (Argentina) posted six birdies against one bogey for the second-best round of the competition – five-under 66 – after opening with a 75.
  • In all four LAACs there has been a solo leader through 36 holes: (2015 – Andre Tourinho, Brazil; 2016 –Nicolas Echavarria, Colombia; 2017 – Alvaro E. Ortiz, Costa Rica; 2017 – Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Argentina)
  • Only three players shot sub-par scores in the first two rounds – Jaime Lopez Rivarola of Argentina – 69-68—137; Toto Gana of Chile – 68-70—138; and Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico – 69-70—139.
  • 17 players broke par in the second round.
  • 52 players made the cut for the second consecutive year.
  • The 36-hole cut (by the numbers):
    • Countries – 15
    • Oldest – 36-year-old Jeromino Esteve (Puerto Rico)
    • Youngest – 14-year-old Justin Hastings (Cayman Islands; also youngest player in LAAC history)
    • Top-ranked in WAGR – No. 1 Joaquin Niemann of Chile and No. 8 Ale Tosti of Argentina
    • Past champions to advance – 3 (Toto Gana, 2017; Paul Chaplet, 2016; Matias Dominguez, 2015)
    • Players from Chile to advance – 10 of 11 in the starting field; including four in the top 10
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