LAAC Day 3 report: Packed leaderboard in Panama

Alvaro Ortiz and Toto Gana lead; nine are within four shots

Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico
Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico
(Image credit: LAAC)

After a thrilling third day at Club de Golf de Panama, the Latin America Amateur Championship is still very much up for grabs with nine players within four shots of the lead held by Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Toto Gana of Chile.

Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico made a big move in the LAAC on Saturday at Club de Golf de Panama. The 21-year-old carded a fine 67 to tie for the 54-hole lead with Toto Gana of Chile on two-under-par. Another Chilean Joaquin Niemann is in third place on one-under while 36-hole leader Alvaro E. Ortiz is tied for fourth with Nicolas Echavarria of Colombia.

Alvaro Ortiz made his move with a birdie and an eagle in his first four holes. He dropped a shot at the 7th but made further gains at the 13th and 14th holes. He bogeyed the short 17th but finished the day at two-under-par and was tied for the lead at the close of play.

The junior at the University of Arkansas was tied for third in the first edition of the LAAC in 2015 and was tied for the lead after round one last year before being disqualified after round two, signing for an incorrect score. Ortiz is confident he can go on to claim victory this time round and secure an invitation to the U.S. Masters.

“I’m going to be aggressive tomorrow as I feel I’m playing really well,” he said. “I’ve been in this position before (in Buenos Aires two years ago) and I think that will give me a great advantage.”

Alvaro’s older brother Carlos Ortiz is a PGA Tour player and the younger Mexican is keen to get to Augusta before his sibling.

“That would be amazing,” he said. “I’m always trying to catch up to him and have only ever beaten him a couple of times so to get to Augusta before him would be great.”

The winner of the tournament receives, in addition to an invitation to compete in the Masters Tournament; an exemption into The Amateur Championship, an exemption into the U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible. In addition, the champion and runner(s)-up receive exemptions into Open Qualifying Series – Final Qualifying with an opportunity to earn a place in The 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, plus an exemption into final stage qualifying for the U.S. Open with an opportunity to earn a place in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills.

Chile’s Toto Gana is tied for the lead on two-under-par after carding a 69 on Saturday.

“I played well, keeping the ball on the fairway which was key,” he said. “I will keep the same strategy for tomorrow, it has worked so far and I’m looking forward to playing with my friend Joaquin Niemann in round four.”

Gana’s fellow Chilean Joaquin Niemann equalled the best score of the day with a 67 to move into solo third spot. Niemann is the top-ranked player in the field this week (5th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking) and he’s steadily improving with rounds of 72, 70 and 67. He is likely to be a threat tomorrow. Niemann was tied third in this event in the Dominican Republic last year.

"I think my game is stronger than last year," he said. "You have to believe you have improved and I feel that I have that belief just now."

36-hole leader Alvaro E. Ortiz of Costa Rica posted a decent score of 73 to remain in contention – just two shots back of the leading duo. The 48-year-old started scrappily but kept his score together with some excellent putting. A superb shot to the par-5 4th resulted in a birdie and that gave him the lead on his own once again. But he dropped shots around the turn. His back nine featured two birdies and four bogeys, but he finished with three pars to keep his total score on level par.

Home player Miguel Ordonez received great support through his round of 68 and he sits in a tie for sixth place on one-over-par, just three shots off the pace. First-round leader Julian Perico of Peru is also in that tie for sixth.

Latin America Amateur Championship – Round three scores

T1    Alvaro Ortiz (Mex)        208 T1    Toto Gana (Chi)            208 3    Joaquin Niemann (Chi)        209 T4    Nicolas Echavarria (Col)    210 T4    Alvaro E. Ortiz (CRC)        210 T6    Miguel Ordonez (Pan)        211 T6    Julian Perico (Per)        211 T8    Alejandro Villavicencio (Arg)    212 T8    Eithel McGowen (Per)        212

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Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?