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Latin American Amateur: Final Masters Invite on the Line
Toto Gana is in good position to successfully defend in his home country<br>(LAAC photo)
Toto Gana is in good position to successfully defend in his home country
(LAAC photo)

SANTIAGO, CHILE (January 20, 2018) - Three players are tied for the lead after the first round of the Latin America Amateur Championship at Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago, Chile.

The Latin America Championship is the final chance for amateurs to earn an invitation into this year's Masters Tournament at Augusta National, as the winner traditionally receives an invite.

Toto Gana (Chile), who memorably won last year's championship in a playoff over Alvaro Ortiz (Mexico) and Joaquin Niemann (Chile), shot a three-under 68 to share the top spot with Pablo Torres (Colombia) and Mark Montenegro (Argentina).

Gana, the 20-year-old Lynn University sophomore playing in his home country, made six birdies and three bogeys in his opening round. "Tomorrow is going to be a different day, but I think I’m going to keep on doing the same things I’ve been doing up to now," Gana said after the round. "The greens are going to be faster. I think it’s going to be hotter tomorrow, but I just have to keep on doing what I’ve been doing. I think I have my game under control. I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow."

Montenegro held the lead for much of the day, getting to six under at one point, before losing three shots late to fall into the three-way tie. "I played really well from the fairway," said Montenegro. "I made very good putts the first 14 holes and I saved most of the greens that I missed. I think I was playing really solid, and the end wasn’t what I wanted, but I’m happy with the round….I worked hard for this round with my coach, and we made a pretty good strategy. So, we are going to keep doing what we did today."

Ortiz is in a group of five players who shot two-under 70 and sit one shot back of the leaders.

Niemann, the #1 ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and, like Gana is enjoying a home country advantage, entered the tournament as the prohibitive favorite but finds himself six shots back after a three-over 74. Niemann contemplated turning professional last fall but ultimately decided to remain amateur, with an eye on getting to the Masters by winning this week.

"It was not easy out there," said Niemann. "The course was very different (compared) to the one we practiced the last two days. The wind blew harder. On the first holes I was fighting, but a couple of odd mistakes at the end cost me. You can go low on this course, especially in the morning, and I’ll be playing early tomorrow. The course will be softer and no wind, so I’m going to be more aggressive to try to get in contention. There’s still a lot of golf to be played."

Chileans have put their stamp on this tournament, winning two of three events that have been held. Matias Dominguez won the inaugural tournament in 2015.

Jeronimo Esteve, a mid-amateur from Puerto Rico who lives in Orlando, is in a group of players at one under after a 70.

Results For Latin America Amateur Championship
1ChileJoaquin NiemannChile120074-64-72-63=273
2MexicoAlvaro OrtizMexico90069-70-70-69=278
T3ArgentinaJaime Lopez RivarolaArgentina70069-68-73-69=279
T3ChileGabriel Morgan BirkeChile70072-70-69-68=279
T3GuatemalaDaniel GurtnerGuatemala70070-71-69-69=279

View full results for Latin America Amateur Championship

ABOUT THE Latin America Amateur

Founded by the Masters Tournament, The R&A and the USGA, the LAAC was established to further develop amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. The LAAC is a 72-hole stroke play event open to a field of 108 amateur players in Latin America, chosen by their respective national federations according to their World Amateur Golf Ranking. Past winners of the championship, as well as last year’s top-five finishers, are automatically entered into this year’s championship.

The LAAC champion annually receives an invitation to compete in the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. In addition, the winner and the runner(s)-up are exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the US Open Championship. The champion is also awarded full exemptions into The Amateur Championship, the US Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible.

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