Four days of intense competition came to a thrilling climax today at the Latin America Amateur Championship - Rob Smith witnessed the action…

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Latin America Amateur Championship – Final Day

The final group gathers on the opening tee

Following three days of intense competition at amazing Casa de Campo, plenty of golfers began the final day in contention with Mexican Alvaro Ortiz on top of the leaderboard at 8-under. With more than 20 players at par or better, it would be fascinating to see whether someone would emerge from the pack as last year when Joaquin Niemann shot a stunning 63 to capture the Latin America Amateur Championship title. Joining Ortiz in the final group were Peruvian Luis Fernando Barco and Chilean Agustin Errazuriz, each a stroke off the pace.

Alvaro Ortiz plays an iron off the first tee

The opening hole is just under 400 yards, so just an iron from the tee for these fine players, and both Ortiz and Barco made the perfect start with birdies, the Mexican hitting his approach to just three feet.

Ahead of them, Peru’s Julian Perico was off to a blistering start with four birdies in the opening six holes showing that golfer of this class, playing in perfect conditions, are capable of pretty much anything.

The LAAC Trophy alongside those for the Masters, The Open and the US Open

Growing the game is at the heart of the reasoning for this championship, with the organising bodies all totally committed to its success. The R&A, the Masters Tournament and the USGA are all here in force this week and the winner will get a place at Augusta in less than three months as well as exemptions into the Amateur and US Amateur. Both he and the runner-up (and ties) also receive exemptions into sectional qualifying for the US Open which is at Pebble Beach in June, and into final qualifying for The Open which is at the beautifully renovated Royal Portrush.

The sixth green with the short seventh and par-4 eighth beyond

The most difficult stretch on the front nine is the oceanside holes from 6 to 8, into the breeze, well bunkered and with run-offs. Danger doesn’t so much lurk as scream all the way on the right. Costa Rica’s Luis Gagne negotiated all three in par, surrounding them with four birdies to move to the top on 10-under at the halfway stage. Meanwhile, Ortiz dropped a shot at the 8th before a superb up-and-down at the 9th saw him turn one off the lead.

Luis Gagne from Brazil makes his move

Luis Gagne from Brazil makes his move

As the back nine progressed, the wind increased and the leading two created some daylight between themselves and the rest of the field. Gagne birdied 11 and 14 to build a lead, but Ortiz hit back in stunning fashion with an eagle at the long 12th followed by a three at the 455-yard 13th. Bunkered at 16, Gagne holed a 15-footer to stay level with Ortiz on 12-under and effectively make it a two-horse race.

Ortiz holes his short putt at the closing hole to claim victory

A mistake by Gagne off the tee led to sand and a bogey at the penultimate hole, and in complete contrast Ortiz almost holed for eagle, his approach running six inches past the hole. This two-shot swing, with both birdieing the closing hole, meant that the new champion is Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz. Gagne finished two back on 12-under, while in third place was Peruvian Luis Fernando Barco.

Alvaro Ortiz receives the trophy

The new champion received his trophy from Chairman of The R&A, Ian Pattinson, and so will delay turning professional which would probably have happened immediately had he not won. His older brother Carlos is already on the PGA Tour, and the delighted 23-year-old will be the first Mexican to play in the Masters in 40 years. He said afterwards, “It feels good to be able to finally hold this trophy after wanting to for so long. I can’t believe I finally did it. I’m just excited about the week and I still can’t believe I’m going to play the Masters. I think it’s what every golfer dreams of.”

It was good to hear that runner-up Gagne is keen to take his place in Final Qualifying for The Open in July at Royal Portrush, and will be very interesting to follow the new champion Ortiz as he completes his amateur career and graduates up to the professional ranks.

There seems no doubt that this new championship has already made a significant impact in its young life, one that looks set to grow and grow.

Final Scores

1        Alvaro Ortiz                    Mexico           -14

2        Luis Gagne                      Costa Rica     -12

3        Luis Fernando Barco    Peru                 -9

4        Toto Gana                       Chile                -8

5        Andrey Borges Xavier   Brazil              -7

T6      Fred Biondi                     Brazil             -6

T6      Jorge Garcia                    Venezuela     -6

8        Agustin Errazuriz           Chile              -5