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Opposites attract: Good friends Barco, Ortiz fight for Masters invite

Luis Fernando Barco and Alvaro Ortiz
Enrique Berardi/LAAC

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — Luis Fernando Barco was seated in the interview room Saturday afternoon when he was asked to describe his relationship with Alvaro Ortiz.

Rather than answer, Barco looked to the back of the room and began a conversation in Spanish.

"He's asking Alvaro how long they've known each other," the media official sitting next to Barco explained. 

"I want to say it's been two or three years," Barco finally answered, laughing. "And we played together in last year's LAAC, on Thursday and Friday, as well."

They'll be side by side for four rounds this year at Casa de Campo. 

Playing in their final Latin American Amateur Championship, Mexico's Ortiz leads Peru's Barco and Chile's Augustin Errzuriz by one shot through three rounds on the Teeth of the Dog course.

Full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Two of the pre-tournament favorites, Ortiz and Barco were grouped together on Thursday and Friday and stayed together in the final group on Saturday, jockeying for the 54-hole lead.

They genuinely enjoy playing with one another, even though they're polar opposites in their on-course demeanor. Barco is stoic. Watching him walk from the previous green to the next tee, it's tough to tell whether he just made birdie or bogey. Ortiz, on the other hand, you never have to wonder what he's thinking. Unhappy with his tee shot at the par-5 18th Saturday, he pulled off a one-handed finish with a club drop and an immediate behind-the-back catch.

"I try to remain as calm as possible," Barco said.

"I think he gets emotional, but once he gets over the shot, I think he's fine. So we just walk around and talk a lot on the course and give fist bumps and stuff life that. I really enjoy playing with him."

The two are so simpatico that when they're asked to talk about each other, their answers are almost verbatim.

"I like playing with him," Ortiz said Friday. "He's such a nice guy. We've been friends for a long time now, and it's nice to feed off each other, you know, making birdies, playing good."

"We're really good friends," Barco echoed, minutes later. "Especially yesterday, we were kind of feeding off each other. We were both playing really well. ... He's a great guy, and he's a really good golfer, and I enjoy playing with him."

Barco, 23, entered this week as the highest-ranked player in the field, 26th in the world. Ortiz, 119th, has finished third or better at this event three times, with two runner-ups. He lost in a playoff in 2017 and couldn't hold onto the 54-hole lead last year when Joaquin Niemann blew away the field with a final-round 63. 

Ortiz doesn't want that to happen again and says he intends to come out aggressive, "maybe get like a four-shot lead on the front nine," and cruise to the clubhouse from there.

"I think hopefully you're going to see me lift the trophy tomorrow," he said. "That's the plan. ... I've been here before. I know what it takes. I think last year I did a great job, but Joaquin did a better job."

Both Barco and Ortiz intend to head to a PGA Tour Latinoamerica Qualifying Tournament from Jan. 29-Feb. 1 should they fail to win Sunday. Barco will travel to Buenos Aires and Ortiz will go to Rio.

They'll play with Errazuriz in the final group, but if either player is going to make it to Augusta National, they're going to have to go through each other. 

"I think Luis is an extremely solid player," Ortiz said. "I don't think he's going to lose the tournament tomorrow. I think he's a player that you have to beat to win.

"If he beats me tomorrow, at least I'll feel good that somebody I know and somebody I care about wins. But at the same time, it's hard to beat a friend. ... Hopefully one of us goes really low tomorrow and beats the other."

Barco and Ortiz have been rooting each other on all week. With a Masters invite on the line, will they still be fist bumping along the shore of the Caribbean Sea as they come down the back nine Sunday?

"I don't know," Barco said. "We'll see. Maybe he'll make an eagle or something. Then we'll fist bump. We'll see how it goes tomorrow."