Carlos Ortiz up to the challenge at Vivint Houston Open
5 Min Read
He earns first win by beating world’s best on challenging course
Written by Sean Martin @twitter.com/pgatoursmartin
Carlos Ortiz sinks a 22-foot birdie to win Vivint Houston Open
HOUSTON – In its return to the PGA TOUR, Memorial Park provided the setting for someone to earn their first victory in the most satisfying way: by executing demanding shots to hold off some of the world’s best players.
Carlos Ortiz won the Vivint Houston Open with birdies on two of the final three holes. He finished atop a leaderboard that included Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama. It was Ortiz’s first PGA TOUR victory in 118 starts and first win of any kind in six years.
The return to Memorial Park, which last hosted a TOUR event in 1963, was always going to be a monumental week. The new venue brought the Vivint Houston Open from the suburbs to a municipal course located in the heart of the nation’s fourth-largest city. Memorial Park is the rare course that can challenge the world’s best players, while everyone else can play the other 51 weeks of the year for under $40.
The Astros Golf Foundation, the tournament’s host organization, accomplished that by hiring the iconoclastic architect Tom Doak. Several of his designs can be found on rankings of the world’s top 100 courses, but this was the first one to host a PGA TOUR event.
Doak created a course that challenged the pros, while remaining playable for the everyman, by removing bunkers and replacing them with steep slopes of short grass. Combine those tricky contours with firm greens and thick rough, and Memorial Park was a stiff challenge. Despite playing hundreds of yards shorter than its scorecard yardage, the course had an over-par scoring average for the week. It is one of just six courses in this calendar year with a scoring average at least a stroke over par.
There were 33 scores of triple-bogey or worse this week – more than even the U.S. Open at Winged Foot – and Doak’s difficult contours were the main culprit. Ortiz handled them expertly. He led the field in scrambling, getting up-and-down 18 of 21 times. That helped him stay in contention despite struggling to find fairways earlier in the week (he hit less than half in the first three rounds).
Ortiz started Sunday in the final group, one shot behind leader Sam Burns and tied with Day.
“Every time you're inside three strokes from the leader, you know you have a good chance,” Ortiz said. “I've been putting myself in those spots quite a bit the last year and I feel like I had what I needed to get it done.”
Ortiz holed out twice from off the green on the front nine Sunday, using a putter both times, to take a two-shot lead at the turn. He still had plenty of work, however. His two closest pursuers were Johnson, the reigning FedExCup champion, and Koepka, the four-time major winner who was the player consultant on Memorial Park’s radical renovation.
“I was trying to mind my own business,” Ortiz said. “I've been working really hard on staying positive, patient and don't let my emotions get the best of me and I think I did an amazing job this week.”
Providing an exciting finish was another objective of Doak, who studied under Pete Dye and shadowed him at the first PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
When Dye was criticized for the severity of his designs, he claimed that he was simply creating a canvas for players to display their immense skill. “We’re just giving them the opportunities to hit great golf shots,” Dye said.
Memorial Park’s closing holes gave Ortiz that opportunity. The first came on the par-5 16th, where he faced a 223-yard second shot to a water-guarded green. Ortiz started walking after his ball almost immediately after striking it. He knew it was good, and he watched it roll 8 feet from the hole. He missed the eagle putt, but his birdie gave him back the lead he’d lost after making par on the first six holes of the back nine.
Doak built Memorial Park’s final hole to be a brute after giving players several birdie opportunities on the back nine. Ortiz walked to the tee with a one-shot lead. This was another opportunity to show his mettle, and he did. He hit both the fairway and the green before rolling in the 22-foot birdie putt to seal his first PGA TOUR victory.
He missed just four fairways and three greens Sunday to shoot a 65 that gave him a two-shot victory over Johnson and Matsuyama. Koepka finished fifth, five shots behind Ortiz, while Day faded Sunday and tied for seventh. Koepka closed with consecutive 65s, making a second-half surge after struggling in the first two rounds with a new driver.
Johnson missed a 7-foot birdie putt on 17, and both he and Matsuyama missed makeable birdie tries on 18. Johnson hit the ball impeccably on the weekend but, outside of the 60-foot birdie putt he made on the 11th hole Sunday, he lost strokes on the greens.
Ortiz became the third player from Mexico to win on the PGA TOUR, and his maiden win came in his adopted home state. He’s lived in Texas since arriving at the University of North Texas. He had a solid career for the Mean Green but wasn’t considered a can’t-miss prospect when he turned pro. Then, in his first full season as a professional, he won three times on the Korn Ferry Tour to earn an immediate PGA TOUR promotion. He couldn’t have imagined he’d have to wait six years for another win.
“I'm really happy the way everything played out, and then obviously this time it went my way,” Ortiz said. “I feel like I've put in the work, my team has been working with me really hard and I'm just happy.”
Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.