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Prieto and Negrete take Junior Orange Bowl International titles
Courtesy of Junior Orange Bowl International
Courtesy of Junior Orange Bowl International

Nicholas Prieto and Maria Jose Marin Negrete took different paths to win the boys' and girls' divisions of the 58th Junior Orange Bowl International Golf Championships on Thursday at the Biltmore Golf Course in Coral Gables, Fla.

Prieto, a native of Miami who lives just 20 minutes from the Biltmore, overcame a six-shot deficit in the final round by firing a 6-under 65 to claim the boys' division by two strokes over Jay Brooks, while Negrete extended her one-stroke lead at the start of the day to earn a three-shot win in the girls' division over Vairana Heck and Anna Davis.

Living up to its name, this year's Junior Orange Bowl International once again attracted top junior players from all over the world to South Florida, with entrants from diverse locales as Ukraine, Jamaica, Serbia, Slovenia, Thailand, Guatemala, Bulgaria, India, Zimbabwe, Peru, Turkey, Iceland and Barbados filling out both leaderboards.

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Prieto erases six-shot deficit to win Boys' Division

Never count Nicholas Prieto out of anything.

The Miami, Fla. native who will play his collegiate golf at South Florida, started the final day of the Junior Orange Bowl International staring at a six-stroke deficit after this first three rounds left him at 2-under 211.

Jay Brooks, who was playing in his own backyard in Coral Gables, looked to be in a strong position to secure a wire-to-wire victory as the Florida commit took a three-stroke lead over England's Harley Smith.

Knowing he needed a lights-out round along with a little help from the leaders if he was going to get back into the title hunt, Prieto rolled a pair of aces en route to a two-shot victory.

Prieto, currently listed at 43rd in the American Junior Golf Association rankings, took care of his own business by firing a bogey-free round of 6-under 65, picking up three birdies on each side to move rapidly up the leaderboard. His final round culminated a nice comeback for the 17-year-old, who followed a 73 on Monday with three subpar rounds to finish at 8-under 276.

It wasn't like Brooks gave away the tournament, but a final round 73 that left him at 6-under 278 wasn't enough to withstand the Prieto tsunami.

Brooks, who held the lead after each of the first three days, held the outright lead for much of the final round until Prieto birdied No. 13 to pull even at 7-under overall.

But Brooks suffered bogeys on 15 and 17 while Prieto picked up his sixth birdie of the day on 16 to secure a two-shot win.

“My goal the whole time was a 64," said Prieto. "That’s what I thought would take to win, but I guess I needed a little less than that.”

Said Brooks, “I missed probably 13 or 14 putts inside 10 feet. I was hitting the ball great, but just couldn’t get the ball in the hole.”

For Prieto, it was another impressive showing in his home state. In July, he went wire-to-wire to capture the 67th Florida Boys’ Junior Amateur Championship at Inverness.

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Record-setting third round lifts Negrete to girls' championship

It's called moving day for a reason.

Entering the third round of Wednesday, Maria Jose Marin Negrete found herself 1-over par and five strokes behind 36-hole leader Vairana Heck of France.

Though there was plenty of golf left, Negrete had some work to do.

The day started well enough. Beginning her round on the Biltmore's 10th hole, Negrete birdied her first hole of the day but after following with six consecutive pars, was still stuck in neutral.

Then the floodgates opened.

Negrete, a native of Colombia, ran off six consecutive birdies to move to 7-under on the day and following her eighth birdie of the day on her 17th hole, she had moved to the top of the leaderboard with a third-round score of 8-under 63, breaking Paula Creamer's tournament record.

Despite her Wednesday birdie barrage, Negrete took just a one-stroke lead over Heck heading into the final round.

Negrete and Heck could keep their eyes on each other as they were paired together for Thursday's final 18 holes, but the Columbian didn't blink.

She followed up her scintillating third round with a 1-under 71 while Heck failed to make a charge and settled for a 1-over 72. Anna Davis, who made the cross-country track to South Florida from her home just outside of San Diego, had too much ground to make up but a final round 67 moved her into a tie for second with the Frenchwoman.

“I had a lot of confidence because of my round yesterday,” said Negrete. “I felt really good with my putter, and I was driving the ball in the fairway.”

Her total of 8-under 276 was just one stroke shy of the Junior Orange Bowl girls' record set by England's Lily May Humphries in 2017. She joins a list of past champions which include Hall of Famer Inbee Park (2002) and LPGA major winners Cristie Kerr (1994), Lexi Thompson (2009), Ariya Jutanugarn (2010) and Brooke Henderson (2013).

It was Negrete's 12th win worldwide since 2019. She also had an impressive second-place showing in the inaugural Latin America Women's Amateur in November, where she finished one-stroke back of countrywoman Valery Plata.

Jeff Shain of JuniorOrangeBowl.org contributed to this report.

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ABOUT THE Junior Orange Bowl

72-hole invitation-only event. Players must not have reached their 19th birthday by the end of the tournament and must not be participating on a College/University team. The field is limited to a maximum of 72 Boys and 42 girls representing US and Foreign Countries. There are no age categories and there is no cut during the Championship. Invitations are sent out in mid- September. The tournament's alumni list includes current professional players Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, and Lexi Thompson.

The golf tournament is just one of 15 competitions among The Junior Orange Bowl Festival. This volunteer-led, not-for-profit organization hosts athletic, academic, and cultural competitions that draw over 7,500 youth from Miami, the State of Florida, across the United States, and over 76 countries worldwide to compete. The annual marquee event rounding out each festival season is the Junior Orange Bowl Parade, a community based youth parade that travels through the historic streets of Coral Gables featuring high school and college marching bands, floats and various youth and community groups attracting over 35,000 families, friends, and neighbors. It dates back to 1948.

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