Latin America AmateurJanuary 19, 2019

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz is once again one (long) round away from playing in the Masters

Alvaro Ortiz
Enrique Berardi/LAAC

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — You’ll forgive Alvaro Ortiz if he was feeling a bit of déjà vu—or the Spanish equivalent—on Saturday at Casa de Campo Resort. For the second straight year, the 23-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, holds a one-stroke lead after 54 holes at the Latin America Amateur, the invitation to the Masters awarded to the champion once again tantalizingly within his reach.

In 2018, Ortiz shot a respectable final-round 69, only to see Chile’s Joaquin Niemann run away with the LAAC title after shooting a 63. This time around it’s Ortiz—who has three top-three career finishes in the tournament—who wants to be doing the running away.

“Hopefully, you’ll see me tomorrow lifting the trophy. That’s the plan,” Ortiz said. “I’m just going to try to be patient. I’ve been here before. I know what it takes. …Yeah, I’m going to trust the process, be patient and have the best attitude I can have.”

With a two-putt birdie on the par-5 18th on Saturday, Ortiz capped a two-under 70 on a Teeth of the Dog course that proved a bit more challenging than the previous two days as the ocean winds stiffened. At eight under overall, Ortiz sits one stroke ahead of Peru’s Luis Fernando Barco and Chile’s Agustin Errazuriz.

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Ortiz’s Saturday round could have been lower. The former standout at the University of Arkansas, who wrapped up his college career last May, made birdies on three of his first eight holes, but stalled when he bogeyed Nos. 10 and 11. With playing partners Barco and second-round leader Juan Cayro Delgado struggled early on the back nine, too, the group was put on the clock, making for some anxious moments.

Ortiz finally settled down with a solid tee shot to eight feet on the par-3 14th, just before the group was taken off the clock. He missed the birdie putt, but the shot calmed him, and he played the remaining holes in one under par.

Barco, the top-ranked player in the field this week at No. 24, started the day one stroke back of Delgado (who struggled with a 77 and fell into a tie for 10th) and played solidly if not spectacularly. Bogeys on the 12th and 13th holes (not coincidentally when their group being timed) threatened to knock him out of contention, but birdies on 14th and 17th helped him regain some confidence. And a 12-foot par-saving putt on the 18th for a one-under 71 was a welcome way to finish the day.

Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Barco struggled at times in the third round, but remains just one stroke off the lead after shooting a one-under 71.

“I tried to remain as calm as possible, and especially on a day like today, I wasn’t hitting the ball as good as I would have liked to,” said the 23-year-old from Lima. “I just thought it was really important to stay calm and if I happen to miss a green, miss it in the right spot and try to get the ball up-and-down and keep it going. I was lucky enough to finish with a couple birdies that ended up being a pretty good round at the end of the day.”

RELATED: The highest ranked player at the LAAC won’t pat himself on the back, so we will

Playing in the penultimate threesome on Saturday, Errazuriz, a 19-year-old trying to become the fourth different Chilean golfer to win the LAAC in its five-year history, made five birdies, including a 10-footer on the closing hole, to post a three-under 69. In his one previous start at the LAAC, he finished T-37, but he won Chile’s national amateur in 2018 as well as the Las Araucarias Open, one of four top-10 finishes he has had in professional events in his home country.

“I couldn't be in a better position,” Errazuriz said. “It’s the one I wanted to be in after three days. I am one stroke behind the leader, and maybe that’s the position I want to be, because I want to come from behind and maybe have less pressure when I start playing tomorrow.”

Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Errazuriz shot a third-round 69 and hopes to become the fourth golfer from Chile to win the LAAC in its five-year history.

Ortiz will need to be aware of more than just the two competitors in his final pairing on Sunday. Twelve golfers sit within six strokes of the lead, including Costa Rica’s Luis Gagne (six under), the co-low amateur at last year’s U.S. Open, and Jorge Garcia (four under), runner-up at the LAAC when it was previously played at Casa de Campo in 2016, and Chile’s Toto Gana (two under), winner of the LAAC in 2017.

RELATED: Final threesome experiences awkward moment where they're playing both too fast and too slow

Given the crowded leader board, Ortiz says it will impact his approach come Sunday. “I won’t be as conservative,” Ortiz said. “I’ll play as aggressive as I’ve been playing, for sure, and try to get off to an early lead and just play the back nine just very patient.”

Before then, the plan is to try to relax. Ortiz said he’ll spend the rest of Saturday working out, reading a book and hanging out with his parents. He also might try to see how his older brother, Carlos, is doing at the PGA Tour’s Desert Classic, where he shot a 62 on Friday.

“He knows he’s like my role model,” Ortiz said, having spent several days practicing with him in recent months as they both prepared for their respective schedules at the start of the new year.

The brothers are best of friends, but they’re also intense competitors. Which helped explain Ortiz’s closing comment at his press conference Saturday.

“If I can make it to the Masters before him,” Ortiz said, a devilish smile beginning to appear on his face, “that would be huge.”

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