Jose Vega of Colombia leads the Latin America Amateur Championship through 54-holes. He sits on two-under-par after three rounds in Mayakoba, Mexico.

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LAAC Round 3: Jose Vega leads through 54 holes

Colombia’s Jose Vega leads the Latin America Amateur Championship by two shots from Abel Gallegos of Argentina with one round to play at the El Camaleon course at Mayakoba in Mexico.

With the wind blowing even harder at times than on the first two days, Vega was in impressive control of his game on the front nine and he then scrambled brilliantly after the turn to stay in front.

Although he opened the day with a bogey, Vega regained that stroke with a birdie on the par-5 5th.

Displaying the sort of shot shaping and low ball-flight one normally associates with links golf, the 26-year-old reached the turn in level par 36 before picking up a shot on the par-3 10th.

Vega who graduated from Bellevue University in 2015 looked to be in serious trouble on the 11th hole after driving into the jungle.

But he pitched out then stuck his third to within a few feet and saved par.

The 26-year-old, who works as a sales manager for TrackMan, found more trouble at the 12th, clipping a tree with his second shot.

Once again though he escaped with par after a superb pitch from 60 yards short of the green.

The errors caught up with the Colombian on the 13th.

He lost his second shot right into the mangroves and was unable to get up-and-down.

The resulting six saw him drop back to three-under.

He steadied with three straight pars but one more went on the 18th hole.

The Colombian carded 72 to post a three-round total of two-under-par, two shots clear of his nearest challenger.

“I’m in a great position but the wind is blowing and the course is playing hard,” he said. “On the back nine I struggled mentally and had to make some great saves. On the 11th, I think I made the best par of my life!”

“And, I’m pleased I made a good decision there and elected to play backwards.”

Abel Gallegos of Argentina moved up the leaderboard and reached level par at the turn before stumbling on the run for home and then rebounding again.

Abel Gallegos is in second place

Abel Gallegos is in second place

The 17-year-old found the jungle on the 16th and dropped a shot but then fired to within inches of the cup on the following hole to make birdie.

He then birdied the final hole to card an excellent 70 and move to level par through 54-holes.

“I’m very pleased with how I played today, I hit it well off the tee which is so important on this course,” said Gallegos. “It’s amazing to be in this position. To have a chance on Sunday is incredible, I have to trust myself.”

Also putting on a show of shot-making in the wind was Chile’s Gabriel Morgan Birke.

He hit one of the shots of the championship into the tough par-4 2nd.

Gabriel Morgan Birke

Gabriel Morgan Birke

A head high long iron that burrowed through the wind and ended just feet from the cup, he converted for birdie.

Birke kept at his task on the run for home and picked up a shot at the 17th.

The 22-year-old dropped a stroke on the last and he will go into the final round five shots back on three-over.

First round leader Ivan Camilo Ramirez of Colombia stayed in contention with a one-over-par 71.

He’s too is on three-over for the championship.

Home player Aaron Terrazas sits alone in fifth place on four-over-par.

Also from Mexico, Emilio Gonzalez completed the low round of the day.

The 22-year-old senior at St Mary’s University carded a two-under 69 that included three birdies and just one dropped shot.

He’s moved himself into the top-10.

With a round to play, the incredible prizes the LAAC offers are within touching distance for those in contention.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to compete in the 2020 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club and, for the first time, will automatically qualify for The 149th Open at Royal St George’s.

The winner also receives full exemptions into The Amateur Championship, U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible and is exempt into the final stages of qualifying for the 120th U.S. Open Championship at Winged Foot.

Runner(s)-up will be exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The 149th Open and the 120th U.S. Open Championship.

Jose Vega is keeping things in perspective though.

“I have nothing to lose here,” he said. “I have a job to go back to on Monday and the PGA Show to think about. My mind is here in the present but I have other things in life so I feel calm and that I can just go out and give my best. At this point I really am trying not to think about the prizes on offer. I know tomorrow will be a grind and I will have to manage myself well.”

LAAC Round 4 Leaderboard

1 Jose Vega (Col) -2
2 Abel Gallegos (Arg) Level
T3 Gabriel Morgan Birke (Chi) +3
T3 Ivan Camilo Ramirez (Col) +3
5 Aaron Terrazas (Mex) +4
6 Lukas Roessler (Chi) +5
7 Benjamin Saiz-Wenz (Chi) +6
8 Horacio Carbonetti (Arg) +7
T9 Emilio Gonzalez (Mex) +8
T9 Julian Perico (Per) +8
T9 Guilherme Nunes Grinberg (Bra) +8