Following the halfway cut at the Latin America Amateur Championship, a day of exciting golf saw the leaderboard tighten up. Rob Smith reports…

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Latin America Amateur Championship – Day Three

At the end of the second day of the fifth staging of the Latin America Amateur Championship, the field was whittled down to the leading fifty golfers. Taking place over the amazing Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, the tournament is being screened live on TV over here, and the overnight leader was Juan Cayro Delgado from the host nation.

One shot back on 6-under, in joint second place were Alvaro Ortiz from Mexico and Luis Fernando Barco from Peru, with Chilean Agustin Errazuriz and Andrey Borges Xavier from Brazil a further two shots back on 4-under par.

Representatives from the organising bodies

It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the thinking behind this championship which is jointly organised and heavily supported by The R&A, the Masters Tournament and the USGA. Each of these governing bodies is committed to the growth of the game in general, and more specifically in this case to its increasing presence and strength in Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The 2018 champion, Joaquin Niemann

The impact of this relatively new event is already being felt with mass media presence here this week and no fewer than 28 countries represented in the starting line-up. Last year’s winner was Joaquin Niemann from Chile who turned professional after the Masters. At just 20, he has already earned his full PGA Tour card and is up to number 155 in the world rankings. This is terrific inspiration for all young golfers in the region.

Perfect weather on day three of the championship

A help for the players today was that the wind kept in the background while for the first time in the tournament there were no showers. According to the TV team, January is the coolest month in the Dominican Republic with the average daytime temperature being just 30 degrees!

It’s only natural that these remarkably composed young men are still open to nerves, and with so much to play for, there were plenty of opening birdies and bogies. The overnight leader in particular had a torrid time, a birdie at the 4th being followed by double-bogey, bogey, double-bogey. This would have floored most golfers, but the 17 year-old kept his composure and is still not out of it albeit with a 6-shot deficit. In contrast, Alvaro Ortiz had a flawless front nine with three birdies to assume the lead, before bogies at 10 and 11 opened things up again. Straight pars from there were followed by an exceptional 2-putt birdie at the last allowing him to post a score of 8-under.

Hideki Matsuyama has risen from leading amateur to the highest level

Returning to the importance of this flourishing championship, another point of note is that this tournament actually has an older brother, the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship which has the same intention of growing the game. Two-time winner Hideki Matsuyama has established himself as a world star and this has proved to be a great motivation for golf in the area. A similar happy result is confidently hoped for in Latin America.

The leading players going into Sunday’s final round

Rounds of the day belonged to two Brazilians; Herik Machado who posted back-to-back eagles on 17 and 18 en route to a 65, and Fred Biondo who shot a 66. This leapfrogged the pair into a tie for fifth, one behind Luis Gagne from Costa Rica, who in turn is a shot behind Luis Fernando Barco and Agustin Errazuriz.

Following his round, Ortiz talked of what lies ahead, saying, “I’m just going to try to be patient. I’ve been here before. I know what it takes. Tomorrow, definitely, I won’t be as conservative.”

The top eight are all within four shots with the cosmopolitan leaderboard perfectly bunched. With a place in the Masters and invitations to all manner of other leading tournaments on offer, there should be fireworks on Sunday.