Five players are within six strokes of the lead entering Sunday’s final round
PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Colombia’s Jose Vega fended off another day of Mayakoba winds as well as a spirited push from his pursuers to maintain the lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC) on Saturday, shooting a one-over-par 72 that leaves him at two under par through 54 holes. Argentina’s Abel Gallegos birdied his final two holes for a round of 70 at El Camaleón Golf Club and is in second place at even par for the championship, just two strokes behind Vega.
Gallegos’s sparkling finish sets up another dramatic final round at the LAAC, which has produced 54-hole leaderboards with margins of just a single stroke in each of its previous five editions. In addition to Gallegos, Vega will have to contend with Chile’s Gabriel Morgan Birke and Colombia’s Ivan Camilo Ramirez, who was the first-round leader after opening with a 68. Both players are five strokes behind in a tie for third place.
Mexico’s Aaron Terrazas is the home country’s best chance to claim the trophy, as he made three birdies on the back nine Saturday to finish at 71. He is in fifth place, six strokes back.
Vega, who seized the lead with a blistering second-round 65 on Friday afternoon, is a former college golfer who now works as a regional director of sales for Trackman, a golf technology company. While Vega readily admits that playing golf is more a passion than a potential profession at this stage of his life – he is 26 – he still believes he can finish off this unlikely run and claim the prizes that come with being a LAAC champion, including exemptions into the Masters Tournament and The 149th Open later this year.
He is under no illusions, however, that it will be easy.
“When I step up on the first tee tomorrow, it’s going to be a grind,” he said. “The one that is going to take the trophy home is the one that makes fewer mistakes.”
Gallegos will begin closest to him, and the 17-year-old from a small town of just 25,000 people outside Buenos Aires is one of South America’s top talents. Despite having just a single nine-hole course – named Las Mulitas, or Little Mules – on which he could learn the game, Gallegos was named Argentina’s junior golfer of the year in 2019 and is playing in his first LAAC after finishing sixth in the Junior Orange Bowl earlier this month.
With a swing speed that is routinely around 125 mph and a confident short game, Gallegos has been unflappable this week, especially of late; he has birdied the 18th hole in two of his three rounds, and when he holed his final putt this afternoon, he put himself in exactly the position he wanted.
“My goal was to have a chance on Sunday,” Gallegos said. “I think I fulfilled that. Now I just need to trust myself.”
Among other low scores on Saturday, Mexico’s Emilio Gonzalez (69) joined Gallegos as the only players to shoot under par in the third round. Gonzalez is tied for ninth with Peru’s Julian Perico, who shot a third-round 72.