MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (April 28, 2013) - After a couple of opportunities where he was denied victory, Mexico’s José de Jesús Rodríguez was finally able to celebrate a NEC Series - PGA TOUR Latinoamérica title.
The player nicknamed “El Camarón”, which translates to “The Shrimp”, claimed the Roberto De Vicenzo Invitational Copa NEC by defeating Timothy O'Neal of the United States and Argentina’s Sebastián Saavedra in a playoff.
A runner-up at the TransAmerican Power Products CRV Open in Guadalajara last month and a playoff loser at the Brazil Open in October, Rodríguez gave himself another shot at a victory by birdieing the 72nd hole of the championship.
His final round of 4-under 68 allowed him to secure the clubhouse lead at 17-under 271, 40 minutes before O'Neal and Saavedra finished playing on the last group. With three holes still left to play, O'Neal (72) and Saavedra (69) only managed to make pars to match the number set by the Mexican and guarantee a three-man playoff.
Saavedra missed a 3-footer for par to drop out on the first playoff hole, the 395-yard par-4 18. Rodríguez and O'Neal moved on to the eighth, a 325-yard par 4 that would decide their fate.
Rodríguez reached the green from the tee and O'Neal got into trouble, finding a greenside bunker on the left. The 40-year-old from Savannah, Ga., failed to make the sand save and although he got up-and-down for par, the Mexican answered by two-putting for birdie and the win.
“I’m truly happy. I had several close calls before, but I finally managed to win the title, playing very solid golf. There’s no doubt that much of the credit goes to my caddies, without him I wouldn’t have not done this,” the champion said. “When I had the putt on the 72nd hole I saw the board and I said 'I have to make it' but I saw different fall and my caddie gave me the exact fall, so he was crucial to give me confidence.”
With this victory the player from Irapuato, Mexico, became the top man among "Los Cinco" who lead the NEC Series – PGA TOUR Latinoamérica Order of Merit. His winner’s check for $27,000 improved his season earnings to $ 44,003 in only three starts.
Rodríguez, who now has 14 titles as a professional, also became the third Mexican player with a win on the Tour. His countrymen Oscar Fraustro and Sebastián Vázquez each won last season.
The champion had started the day four shots behind O'Neal, who had to settle for a round of even par.
Saavedra had a great reaction in the final stretch when he holed out for eagle on the 14th and birdied 15 to make the three-way tie. The American had a chance to win the title twice, first on the 72nd hole, where his birdie putt came up short in the mouth of the hole, and the second time on the first playoff hole, where from a similar position touched the left edge of the hole and did not enter.
The final round was played under cloudy skies and a light rain during the playoff. The day high was at 23° Celsius.
Philip Schmid, 16, a member of the Club de Golf del Uruguay and 3 handicap, was the caddie of "El Camarón" Rodríguez. He had a huge smile after being acknowledged by the champion. "A big part was the caddie that I had for the last two days, my hat off to him. He is a guy who read the greens well and that helped me to win," Rodríguez said.
The American finished in second place, a little disappointed at not being able to get the win but still seeing a positive week. "I did not win but it was a good tournament, did not play bad and I hope I provide experience for what is coming. I did not play as strong as expected. My shots to the green were not as good as I did not get good birdie opportunities,” said O’Neal, 40, now sixth in the Order of Merit. "I was in the last group was trying to close a tournament, but this helps me to what is coming, and I'll be better prepared.”
The Argentine was again a supporter of the Roberto De Vicenzo NEC Invitational Cup, just like last year. "It's a great week despite not winning, I used to trust my game and know that at any moment I can give," said the 28-year-old after moving to ninth on the Order of Merit.
Argentina’s Miguel Angel Rodríguez aced par-3 17th hole. The player from Ranelagh hit a 5-iron from 192 yards.
The American Kevin Durkin scored the best round of the day Sunday with a 6-under 66 to climb to the top 20. Five birdies, an eagle and a bogey filled his card.
The NEC Series - PGA TOUR Latinoamérica now travels to Pereira, Colombia, where the 66th Arturo Calle Colombian Open presented by Diners is scheduled to start on Thursday. The tournament hosted by the Colombian Golf Federation will be played at the Club Campestre de Pereira.