Players dreaming of Masters invite at Latin America Am

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 13, 2016, 10:09 pm

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic – The PGA Tour’s Sony Open isn’t the only tournament this week offering an invitation to the Masters.

That’s also the ultimate prize here at the second annual Latin America Amateur Championship, which begins Thursday at Pete Dye’s spectacular Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo Resort.

Created by Augusta National Golf Club, the R&A and USGA, this 109-man, 72-hole stroke-play tournament follows the blueprint for the Asia-Pacific Amateur, which was designed to provide an avenue for aspiring golfers in parts of the world where the sport isn’t as popular. Since 2009, that tournament has produced such winners as Hideki Matsuyama (twice) and Guan Tianlang, both of whom made the cut at the Masters as amateurs.

The world-class resort, corporate backing and first-rate amenities – a players’ game room! – have already elevated the LAAC into a must-play for many of the top amateurs from South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Of course, dangling that Masters carrot – as well as exemptions into the final stage of qualifying for both the U.S. Open and Open Championship – will always help boost participation.

“The prize at the end of the road is quite appealing,” said 25-year-old Argentine Matias Simaski, “so for me it became one of the three most important amateur events in the world.”

Each country in the region, 29 in all, is represented with at least two participants. The World Amateur Golf Ranking is used to fill out the rest of the field, with Argentina, Chile and Mexico with eight players apiece.

Unlike the U.S. Amateur, which in recent years has been overrun with college players, the LAAC field is a mix of players who are either on scholarship in the States or trying to carve out their own path in their home country.



At No. 34 in the WAGR, Juan Alvarez of Uruguay is the highest-ranked player in the field. (There are seven top-100 players overall.) The 22-year-old reinstated amateur posted a top-20 at this event last year, after a closing 78, and recently earned a runner-up finish at the PGA Tour Latinoamerica’s Argentina Open.

“I believe that I’m more prepared this year,” he said through a translator.

The two protagonists from last year’s tournament are back for another run at the title.

Defending champion Matias Dominguez, who won by a shot at Pilar Golf Club in Argentina, went on to miss the cut at the Masters (76-76). After completing his degree from Texas Tech last month, he intends to stay amateur for the foreseeable future to focus on other interests.

Two years ago, he took a semester-long class in Lubbock called “Building Winning Teams,” which brought together the captains from all 15 sports in the school’s athletic department. The goal was for Dominguez to develop all of the tools to be an effective leader and then empower his teammates to reach their potential.

Instead, “that changed my path,” he said.

Dominguez, 23, has plans to create a leadership program in Santiago and also assist the Chilean Golf Federation. Those are the projects he is passionate about. The pro game can wait, perhaps forever.

But for this week, at least, Dominguez is a star, his face plastered on all of the pre-tournament promotional materials. He’s popular among his peers, too, and for good reason.

“How was the Masters? That’s the most common question,” he said, smiling.

Memories of that experience remain vivid – the exhilaration of finding the invitation in the mail, the kindness of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Zach Johnson on the range, the roar from his hole-in-one during the Par-3 Contest.

“That was my whole week already,” he said.

The past year was more traumatic for LAAC runner-up Alejandro Tosti, now a sophomore at Florida.

The 19-year-old Argentine was the only player in the field to break par all four rounds last year, but he missed a 4-footer on the 71st hole and failed to capitalize when Dominguez made bogey on the last.

“It was really hard for me,” he said. “After that moment, (I realized) I was trying to make everything perfect, and I found that things happen and they are never going to be perfect. So you have to expect them to not be perfect and just live with that and try your best.”

Turns out his freshman year with the Gators was far from perfect, too, as he adjusted to college life with new friends, new responsibilities and a new schedule with his family some 16 hours away. He never felt more alone than last spring, when a tooth infection began to cause headaches, sweating, vomiting, fatigue and light sensitivity during a practice round with two-time major champion Angel Cabrera.

Later, doctors found that Tosti was suffering from encephalitis, and he was hospitalized and hooked up to a catheter for nine days. After being released, he administered the IV fluids himself for the next 20 days. Florida’s best player missed the team’s surprising run at NCAA regionals, which culminated in its first championship berth under new coach J.C. Deacon.

Now fully healthy, Tosti concedes: “I was lucky.”

This week, the goal for Tosti, and the rest of the field, is to earn that invitation to the Masters, a dream that for many never seemed possible until a few years ago.

“When I was a little boy, one time I was watching the Masters on TV and I said, ‘One day I want to play at Augusta,’” Alvarez said. “I found out there was going to be a tournament where you could play at Augusta, and here we are. We are going to try our best.”

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.


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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x