Buenos Aires, Argentina (December 8, 2013) – The top 5 players from the season ending Order of Merit of NEC Series-PGA TOUR Latinoamérica gained Web.com Tour status for 2014, led by Florida’s Ryan Blaum who completed his charge to the top by finishing in a tie for fifth at the season-ending VISA Open de Argentina.
In their respective order the players ranked 1-5, known as “Los Cinco,” were Ryan Blaum of Miami, José de Jesús Rodríguez of Mexico, Timothy O'Neal of Savannah, Ga., Jorge Fernández Valdés of Argentina and Manuel Villegas of Colombia. “Los Cinco” represent four different nations and combined to win eight of the 14 events on the Latin American schedule.
In a nerve-wracking race for No. 1, Blaum edged out Mexico’s Rodríguez by a slim margin in the very last tournament of the season. Blaum finished the season with $ 99,135 in earning, only $752 ahead of Rodríguez, who slowed down at the end, earning only $2,073.75 in his last four starts.
No. 1 Blaum claimed the Roberto De Vicenzo Award and full-exempt status on the Web.com Tour season. The other four graduates from NEC Series-PGA TOUR Latinoamérica gained conditional status.
Learn more about Los Cinco and their thoughts on the 2013 season:
1. Ryan Blaum (Florida, USA) $ 99,135
Although he missed the cut in his Tour debut due to a shoulder injury, he managed to recover and improve to establish himself as the best player of 2013. His campaign was highlighted by victories at the Dominican Republic Open and the Aberto do Brasil. He also claimed runner-up honors at the Lexus Peru Open and the Abierto de Chile late in the season.
“This is huge. There is a big difference between first and second on this Tour in terms of status, so I get to map out all the events I want to play in. I’m now guaranteed every event, so that’s a big deal and I’m looking forward to playing next year,” the 30-year old Duke University graduate said about earning full-exempt status on the Web.com Tour.
2. José de Jesús Rodríguez (Irapuato, Mexico) $ 98,383
He dominated the first half of the season by collecting four consecutive top-3 finishes. He reached the Order of Merit top spot after a victory at the Roberto De Vicenzo Invitational Copa NEC in April and seemed impossible to catch after taking a $30,000 lead with his second win of the season at the Arturo Calle Colombian Classic in early November. His lead slipped away when he missed two cuts and earned just $2,073.75 over the final four events of the season. He had two victories, both of them in playoffs, one runner-up finish, two third place finishes and six top-10 finishes in 13 starts.
Putting aside the disappointment of losing the Order of Merit at the very end of the season, he reflected on his best international season: “It was a very special year for me with everything that happened. I’m happy with what I did this year, but now I have to work even harder for what’s coming next.”
3. Timothy O'Neal (Savannah, Georgia, USA) $ 90,015
With wins at the Arturo Calle Colombian Open and the Abierto de Chile he joined Blaum and Rodríguez as the only two-time winners this season. He collected five top-5 finishes and was the only player among “Los Cinco” who didn’t miss a cut.
He could have finished as the Order of Merit No. 1, but decided to put an end to his season after winning the Abierto de Chile in November. His experience was a huge factor on his road back to the Web.com Tour, where he has made 130 career starts.
“This means a lot. That was a goal of mine, to win and to finish in the top 5 and move on to the Web.com Tour,” O’Neal said after the win that secured his card in Chile a few weeks ago. At 41 he is the oldest player among “Los Cinco.”
4. Jorge Fernández Valdés (Cordoba, Argentina) $ 65,178
A season of seven top-10 finishes in 14 starts serve as proof of the huge talent within this 21-year old who happens to be the youngest player among “Los Cinco.” He is one of the most promising players from Latin America and has the talent to follow in the footsteps of his hometown’s hero Ángel Cabrera.
“I’m so excited about accomplishing this goal I had at the beginning of the year. I knew it was going to be hard, but I also knew that if I worked hard and played well it could happen,” said Fernández-Valdés, who became the youngest ever to win on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica at the Mundo Maya Open in May.
5. Manuel Villegas (Medellin, Colombia) $ 60.671
He had a terrific first half of the season, which included a victory at the TransAmerican Power Products CRV Open in March, to establish himself among “Los Cinco.” Struggled toward the end, missing the cut in his last four events. The Colombian had a shot at a second win at home, but lost in a playoff to Rodriguez at the Arturo Calle Colombian Open. He has previous experience on the Web.com Tour.
“Despite not finishing well, this was definitely the most important year of my career,” the 28-year old Villegas said. “All the hard work I have put into this is finally paying off. I just need to believe a lot more and keep working hard in order to reach my goal of playing on the PGA TOUR.”