By Joe Chemycz, Web.com Tour staff
SAO PAOLO, Brazil – Chile’s Benjamin Alvarado fired a 2-under 69 Sunday at the Sao Paulo Golf Club and won the inaugural Brasil Classic presented by HSBC, the Web.com Tour’s initial stop in the South America country.
Alvarado, the third-round leader, held off all challengers to finish at 19-under 265 and win by one stroke over South Africa’s Dawie van der Walt (66) and by two over Californian Kevin Kim (68).
“I was just hoping to get into the top-25 this week so I could go to the next tournament,” said Alvarado, a 27-year-old Santiago native who becomes the first player from Chile to win in Tour history. “In the game of golf, you never what’s going to happen.”
It was barely a week ago that Alvarado found out he got a last-minute sponsor exemption into the tournament. Now the former Arizona State standout not only has Tour status through 2014, he also took a giant step towards the PGA TOUR next year. His first-place check for $121,500 moved him to No. 2 on the money list through the first five events.
“I’m just speechless,” he said in the scoring tent. “I don’t have the words to explain how I feel.”
Alvarado was in a pitched battle during the final day but remained steady and never cracked under the final-day pressure, something that got to him under the intense scrutiny of family, sponsors and media in the Chile Classic last month. He shared the 54-hole lead but wound up fourth after failing to put enough birdies on the board.
Alvarado began the day up by three and without a bogey for his last 45 holes.
“I was a little bit conservative, yes,” he said. “I had so much on my plate. It’s different when you’re trying to catch a player than when you have the lead. I started feeling nervous on the last four holes. Dawie was playing very good. He didn’t miss any shots all day and that was tough for me.”
Alvarado was only one-under for the day and shared the lead with van der Walt after the latter rolled in a birdie putt at No. 16.
“I saw the sign every hole and every shot,” he said of the standard that accompanied the final threesome. “I knew players were making a lot of birdies so I needed to attack.”
He picked the perfect time to do it, though give his caddie credit.
At the par-5 17th hole, Alvarado had every intention of laying up to about 100 yards and taking his chances with a wedge.
“I really had to draw the ball quite a bit to fit the green in two,” he said of the 228-yard shot he faced. “My caddie said ‘hit the 5-iron. You came here to win, not to finish second or third. Just do it.’ I said okay give me the club and I did it. I put it in the middle of the green and two-putted for birdie. It was good he pushed me to hit it. It was maybe the most important shot of my life.”
Alvarado gained the lead but the stage was still set for a dramatic finish at the downhill, 398-yard, 18th hole. All three players attacked the pin with short irons and though Alvarado was only 12 feet away he was still the first to putt. A birdie would end things.
“I was shaking so bad over that putt,” he said. Alvarado missed, which opened the door for the 30-year old van der Walt, who was facing an 8-footer to tie.
“I was expecting him to make that,” said Alvarado.
“I was obviously nervous, but I just tried to put a good stroke and hit a good putt,” said van der Walt, who wound moving to No. 8 on the money list with his runner-up check. “I thought I hit my line, I just didn’t see it break all that much. You know it was a tricky pin placement that made all of us miss the putt there, so I just came up one short”.
Suddenly Alvarado now has a new place to play and a completely different schedule in front of him.
“It’s been a long time,” said Alvarado. “Hours and hours and hours of practice and hard work but now, finally, I am here. I have my card and I am only one more step away from the PGA TOUR.”
Fourth-Round Notes & Quotes:
-- Sunday weather: Mostly cloudy with a few afternoon rain showers. Wind light and variable. High of 75.
-- The fourth round was played in threesomes off the first tee. The tee times ranged from 7:30-11:30 a.m.
MORE ABOUT BENJAMIN ALVARADO:
-- He collects a check for $121,500 and moves to No. 2 on the money list after five events. His total of $150,100 puts him $14,584 back of leader Edward Loar.
-- He becomes the first winner from South America since Miguel Carballo won the 2011 Children’s Hospital Classic in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Oct. 9.
-- He becomes the third first-time winner on Tour this year – joining Kevin Foley/Panama Claro Championship and Patrick Cantlay/Colombia Championship.
-- He is a 27-year-old native of Santiago, Chile. He was a heralded junior player and after waiting 18 months following his graduation, he eventually found his way to Arizona State University as a 19-year old freshman in 2005. He was a two-time All-American for the Sun Devils and turned pro in 2007.
-- He is a two-time winner of the Chile Open (2003, 2011) and also won the 2002 Orange Bowl tournament and the 2003 Southern Amateur.
-- He had 10 career starts on the Web.com Tour prior to this week and made six cuts. His best finishes are a T4 at the 2013 Chile Classic and a T9 in the same event in 2012. He made three cuts in six starts on Tour in 2012.
-- His only start on the PGA TOUR came at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open, where he received a sponsor exemption into the field. He posted scores of 76-71 and missed the cut.
-- He made six cuts in six starts on the 2012 PGA TOUR’s LatinoAmerica Tour and had three top-10 finishes. His best week was a solo sixth at the TransAmerican Power Products Open presented by Corona in Monterrey, Mexico in mid-September. This year, he was T3 at the 55 Abierto Mexicano in his only start on that Tour.
-- He won twice on the 2011 Tour de las Americas and finished second on the Order of Merit.
-- He also finished third on the 2011 Canadian Order of Merit and his best finish there was a runner-up effort at the Canadian Tour Player’s Cup.
-- He underwent surgery on both of his knees in 2009 which kept him out of golf for 14 months.
-- Alvarado led the tournament with the fewest bogeys – 3.
-- Scott Dunlap (T6) had 24 birdies to lead the category this week.
-- Wes Roach (5th) played the final 37 holes without a bogey.
-- Best rounds of the day:
64 – Michael Putnam
65 – Brad Adamonis, Ariel Canete, Scott Dunlap, Oscar Fraustro
|The five graduates of the PGA TOUR LatinoAmerica Tour all made the 36-hole cut this week:|
|There were a total of 11 players from Brazil competing this week and seven made the cut.|
|Course statistics for the week:|
-- Did you know that Sao Paulo’s Latin motto is “Non ducor, duco” which translates as “I am not led, I lead” and the name of the city honors Saint Paul of Tarsus. Gold was discovered in the area in the late 1600’s but when the gold ran out many years later the city shifted to growing sugar cane. Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Brazil, which will host the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Sao Paulo is one of the host cities and is home to three major teams known as the “Trio de Ferro” (The Iron Trio): Corinthians, Palmeiras and Sao Paulo FC.
-- The Web.com Tour returns to the United States for next week’s WNB Golf Classic at Midland (TX) Country Club, April 8-14. This will be the Tour’s 12th visit to Midland CC and the 21st consecutive year playing in the Permian Basin. Last year, Luke Guthrie fired a 6-under 66 in the final round and rallied from five strokes down to win for the second time in as many weeks. Guthrie finished at 17-under par and held on to beat Cameron Percy and defending champion Danny Lee by one stroke. With his win, Guthrie moved to No. 1 on the money list.