Planet Golf — 15 January 2017 by GW staff and news services
Gana wins, punches ticket to Masters

PANAMA CITY — Toto Gana of Chile atoned for a bogey on the final hole by making a short birdie putt to win a three-man playoff Sunday in the Latin America Amateur Championship and earn a spot in the Masters Tournament.

Gana thought he had it won in regulation at the Golf Club of Panama until his 15-foot par putt on the 18th hole caught the right edge of the cup. He closed with a 1-over 71 and slipped into a three-man playoff with his best friend, Joaquin Niemann of Chile, and Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico.

On the second playoff hole, the 433-yard 10th, Gana ripped a drive and had 97 yards to a front pin. He eyed it the whole way until it settled 3 feet from the cup. He calmly tapped in his birdie putt after Ortiz, who missed his birdie try from some 65 feet away, made par. Niemann caught a plugged lie in a bunker and made bogey.

“I don’t realize what I’ve done yet,” the 19-year-old Gana said. “It’s incredible. Two days ago I was nobody, and now I can’t wait to play the Masters.”

The winner of the Latin American Amateur, which began three years ago, gets an invitation to play in the Masters and an exemption into the final stage of qualifying for the U.S. Open and British Open.

Gana never trailed over the final 12 holes and needed only a par on the 18th to win. But he had to scramble just to give himself a chance at par, and it looked as though that would cost him when he hooked his tee shot on the same hole in the playoff. He punched low under a tree to the fairway and hit a pitch to 3 feet to save par.

Ortiz, a junior at Arkansas, had a 15-foot birdie putt to win on the same course where his brother, Carlos Ortiz, won a Tour event in 2014. The putt broke sharply to the left at the end and grazed the cup as Ortiz covered his face with his hat in disbelief.

Gana — his name translates to “win” in English — made good on his second chance with his wedge to 3 feet for the winning birdie.

“The door was open to win the championship,” Gana said. “And I hit the best shot I’ve hit in my whole life.”

It was the second time in three years that a Chilean won the Latin Amateur. Matias Dominguez won the first year. Paul Chaplet, a 16-year-old from Costa Rica, won last year.

Gana said he wasn’t expecting to win when the week started because so many other players had won more tournaments. Niemann won the Junior World at Torrey Pines two years ago and played in the Argentine Open. And now the Chilean teenager is headed to the Masters.

“Playing the Masters is a dream for any golfer because it’s the most prestigious tournament in the world,” he said.

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