Defending LAAC champion Toto Gana of Chile shares the lead after the first round in Santiago. He’s tied at the top with Mark Montenegro of Argentina and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

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Toto Gana of Chile made a solid start in the defence of his title in the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC) at the Prince of Wales CC in Santiago Chile. The home player fired a three-under-par 68 that included six birdies and three bogeys. Gana was pleased with his performance when he spoke after the round.

“I played solidly and hit the ball well,” he said. “Tomorrow is a different day but I will keep doing what I’m doing as it all seems to be working right now.”

Gana spoke of how his attitude has changed since winning the LAAC last year.

“I feel more confident now,” he said. “On the 1st tee, I feel like I know I can play well and I can contend.”

Playing in the first group off, Mark Montenegro of Argentina looked set to post the round of the day as he moved into his back nine this morning. The 20-year-old carded three birdies in an outward half of 33 before adding further gains on the 10th, 11th and 13th holes. At that point the Argentinian was three clear at six-under-par.

Montenegro let things slip a little on the run for home though as his long game began to look a little ragged. He missed the par-3 15th green well to the right and did well to salvage a bogey. A snap hook off the 17th tee resulted in another drop and a block into the trees on the last saw him fall back to three-under. Even so, Montenegro could be pleased with a good day’s work.

Pablo Torres of Colombia also finished on three-under. He completed a very steady round of 68 that included four birdies and just a single dropped shot.

Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz, who lost in a playoff to Toto Gana in Panama last year opened with a promising 69 but others who have enjoyed past success in the LAAC didn’t fare so well. 2015 champion Matias Dominguez of Chile ended with a three-over-par 74 and the runner-up from that year, and a pre-tournament favourite, Alejandro Tosti from Argentina struggled to a seven-over-par 78.

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Tournament favourite and World Number 1 Amateur Joaquin Niemann of Chile also found the going tough. He missed a number of makeable putts and was left frustrated at three-over-par.

The winner of the LAAC receives: an invitation to compete in The Masters Tournament; an exemption into The Amateur Championship, an exemption into the U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible.

In addition, the champion and runner(s)-up receive exemptions into the final stages of qualifiying for The Open Championship with an opportunity to earn a place in The 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, plus an exemption into final stage qualifying for the U.S. Open with an opportunity to earn a place in the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.

LAAC Round 1 – Top-10 scores

T1 Toto Gana (Chi) 68
T1 Mark Montenegro (Arg) 68
T1 Pablo Torres (Col) 68
T4 Mario Carmona (Mex) 69
T4 Jaime Lopez Rivarola (Arg) 69
T4 Rhadames Pena (Dom) 69
T4 Alvaro Ortiz (Mex) 69
T4 Horacio Carbonetti (Arg) 69
T9 Agustin Errazuriz (Chi) 70
T9 Aaron Terrazas (Mex) 70
T9 Felipe Strobach (Per) 70
T9 Camilo Aguado (Col) 70
T9 Daniel Gurtner (Gua) 70
T9 Juan Jose Guerra (Dom) 70
T9 Jeronimo Esteve (Pue) 70