Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz clinched the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC) in style on Sunday after a keenly contested duel with Luis Gagne of Costa Rica at the renowned Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo.
The two-time runner-up and one-time joint third-place finisher finally secured his dream victory with a 14-under-par total of 274, two shots clear of Gagne, who matched his closing round of 6-under-par 66.
In April, Ortiz will become only the second Mexican amateur to compete in the Masters Tournament (after Juan Antonio Estrada who played from 1962-64) and has secured a place at Final Qualifying for The 148th Open at Royal Portrush and the 119th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He is also exempt for The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur event for which he is eligible.
"Complete joy" for Ortiz
The 23-year-old from Guadalajara got off to a strong start with a birdie at the opening hole and gained another at the 5th, but a costly bogey at the par-four 8th left him two behind a surging Gagne. Ortiz, whose older brother Carlos plays on the PGA Tour, kept his cool, however, and overturned the deficit with a dramatic eagle three at the 12th and a birdie three at the next.
The 54-hole leader almost dramatically holed his approach shot at the 295-yard, par-four 17th and tapped in for another birdie to move two clear of the Costa Rican before closing out a fine victory with a birdie four at the closing hole.
“A complete joy, for sure. It's going to be nice to see the Mexican flag at one of the majors again, at the Masters," said Ortiz of his reward for a two-shot victory over Gagne.
Describing his victory Ortiz said it was complete patience, "Trusting in the process and the work that everybody puts in. It feels good to be able to finally hold this trophy after been wanting for so long."
Ortiz was runner-up to Chile’s Joaquin Niemann at Prince of Wales Country Club in Chile last year and lost out in a playoff to another Chilean Toto Gana at Club de Golf de Panama in 2017. The University of Arkansas alumnus also finished tied for third at Pilar Golf in Argentina in 2015 and has held the lead after a round in the LAAC a record seven times.
Open qualification hope for Gagne
In his debut appearance in the championship, Gagne made his move with three consecutive birdies from the 3rd hole and reached 6-under-par for the day with another at the 14th but the 21-year-old slipped up at the par four 17th with his first bogey since the 8th hole, his 17th, in the second round. The Louisiana State University senior finished with a birdie four at the last but it was not enough to catch Ortiz.
Costa Rican Gagne said, "There's definitely a lot of positives for this week. Of course I'm disappointed right now because I felt like I played good enough to win, and I let it slip towards the end. But getting into sectionals for both Opens is something that's nice, especially for the British Open, because I want to go to Europe a little some summer and test it out over there. It could be convenient and hopefully I can qualify for The Open.”
Luis Fernando Barco was bidding to become the first Peruvian to win the LAAC, but the 2018 Peruvian and Mexican Amateur champion’s 2-under round of 70 left him 9-under for the championship and in third position, five shots adrift of Ortiz.
Gana made a final round charge with a 6-under-par round of 66 to finish 8-under for the championship. The junior at Division II Lynn University in Florida produced six birdies in a blemish-free final round to finish fourth.
Brazil’s Andrey Borges Xavier also made a run with a 6-under round of 66 to move to 7-under overall. His compatriot Fred Biondi finished a shot further back alongside Venezuela’s Jorge Garcia.
The 2020 Latin America Amateur Championship will be played at Mayakoba’s El Camaleón Golf Club on Mexico’s Riviera Maya from January 16-19.