By Ron Driscoll
LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic – Alvaro Ortiz, of Mexico, and José Andres Miranda, of Ecuador, shot opening rounds of 4-under-par 68 on Thursday in the second Latin America Amateur Championship to take a one-stroke lead over three players on the Teeth of the Dog Course at Casa de Campo.
The champion of the LAAC, a 72-hole stroke-play event, will earn an invitation to the 2016 Masters Tournament in April, as well as exemptions into The Amateur Championship (conducted by The R&A) and the U.S. Amateur Championship (conducted by the United States Golf Association). The winner will also earn spots in final qualifying for The 145th Open and the 2016 U.S. Open.
Miranda, 21, a senior at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., represented Ecuador in the 2015 Pan American Games. He made five birdies on the 7,202-yard, par-72 course, which was designed by renowned architect Pete Dye and opened in 1971. His lone bogey came on the par-5 ninth hole, his last of the day.
“When I started, it was pretty calm,” said Miranda. “There was no wind until my eighth hole, so I knew I had to take advantage and then try to keep playing solid.”
Ortiz, 20, a sophomore at the University of Arkansas and the younger brother of PGA Tour player Carlos Ortiz, also had five birdies and just one bogey for the day, finishing his round with a birdie on the par-5 ninth hole.
“Last year I learned a lot,” said Ortiz, who shot 67 on the final day in 2015, but bogeyed the 72nd hole to finish two strokes behind Dominguez. “I knew that I would get nervous, and I had that feeling toward the end of the round, a lot of nerves and a lot of pressure. What I learned from my brother, which is something I apply, is I go out on the golf course without expectations. It helps me to remain calm, to play better.”
Defending champion Matias Dominguez, of Chile, who completed his studies at Texas Tech University in December, rebounded from a rough start with four birdies on his incoming nine to card a 1-under 71, which ties him with five other players for seventh place through 18 holes.
“Having a double bogey really tested my patience and emotions right away,” said Dominguez, 23, of the 7 that he made on the par-5 third hole. “But there was plenty of golf left, and I knew that almost everybody was going to have a double on their card because of how this course plays.”
After bogeying the par-3 seventh hole to go 3 over for the day, Dominguez made five birdies in his last 10 holes to offset a bogey on No. 10 and keep himself in the mix to defend the title he secured last January by one stroke over Alejandro Tosti, of Argentina.
Tosti, 19, a sophomore at the University of Florida, was paired with Dominguez on Thursday, just as in the final round of the inaugural LAAC at Pilar Golf outside Buenos Aires. Tosti finished bogey-double bogey on Thursday for an opening 3-over 75 and is tied for 45th, along with Andre Tourinho, of Brazil, who tied for third place last year in Buenos Aires with Ortiz. The top 50 players and ties will play on the weekend.
Daniel Kenji Ishii, of Brazil; Erick Juan Morales, of Puerto Rico; and Raul Pereda de la Huerta, of Mexico, are tied for third after one round with 3-under 69s. Luis Gerardo Garza, of Mexico, is alone in sixth place after a round of 2-under 70, putting three Mexican players in the top six on Day 1.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org