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PGA: Ortiz holds on for first Tour victory

Carlos Ortiz

 

HOUSTON (AP) — Carlos Ortiz never doubted he could win any tournament no matter who he was facing, even if he didn’t have the trophies or the pedigree to prove it.

Now he does.

Ortiz holed two long birdie putts from off the green to take the lead, then was rock solid down the stretch and delivered the winning shots for a 5-under 65 and a two-shot victory in the Houston Open.

Ortiz played the final round alongside a former No. 1 player in Jason Day. He spent the back nine locked in a battle with the current No. 1, Dustin Johnson.

He pulled ahead for good with a 6-iron so good the 29-year-old Mexican started walking after it on the par-5 16th. Ortiz had to settle for a two-putt birdie from 8 feet and he finished in style with a 20-foot birdie for a two-shot victory over Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama.

“I wasn’t really thinking about the other guys. I wasn’t worried,” Ortiz said. “I knew if I played good I was going to be hard to beat. … I knew I was capable of doing that because I know myself, but obviously validating that and then showing it, it definitely gets me more confidence. I’m just happy the way it played out.”

Ortiz, a three-time winner on what was then the Web.com Tour in 2014, became the first Mexican to win on the PGA Tour since Victor Regalado in 1978 at the Quad Cities Open.

Ortiz held back tears as he waited for his playing partners to putt. The victory sends him to the Masters next April. He was there a year ago to watch his brother, Alvaro, who qualified by winning the Latin American Amateur.

“It feels awesome,” said Ortiz, who grew up in Guadalajara and played at North Texas with Sebastian Munoz of Colombia, the most recent Latin American winner on tour. “This is like my second home. There was a bunch of people cheering for me, Latinos and Texans. I’m thankful for all of them.”

It was the loudest cheer for a winner since March. The Houston Open was the first domestic PGA Tour event that allowed spectators during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 2,000 tickets sold daily. They were treated to a good show.

Johnson was making his first start since the U.S. Open after a positive coronavirus test knocked him out of the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek and the Zozo Championship at Sherwood.

After opening with a 72, Johnson rallied with two rounds of 66 and a closing 65. His one regret would be the 16th hole. Tied for the lead, Johnson fanned a 7-iron for his second shot on the par 5, leaving a tough chip to 18 feet and a birdie putt that grazed the left edge of the cup.

Johnson had another birdie putt catch the lip on the next hole.

Matsuyama briefly tied for the lead with birdies on the 16th and 17th, making a 15-footer on the 17th just moments before Ortiz made his birdie on the 16th. He narrowly missed a shot at a third straight birdie on the 18th and shot 63.

Ortiz finished at 13-under 267.

Sam Burns, the 54-hole leader, had a 72 and Day closed with a 71. Neither was a factor for much of the day. This was about Ortiz holding off two players with plenty of experience winning and tasting it for the first time.

Brooks Koepka, who consulted on the redo of Memorial Park, had a 65-65 weekend and tied for fifth in his final start before the Masters. It also bodes well for Johnson, who goes into Augusta National as the No. 1 player in the world for the third time in the last four years.

Johnson has not finished outside the top six in his last six tournaments. That includes two victories and two runner-up finishes.

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