(Reuters) - Mexican Carlos Ortiz overcame early jitters and gave his home fans good reason to celebrate as he surged into contention just two strokes behind a six-way tie for the lead of the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen on Thursday.
Competing in a PGA Tour event in the land of his birth for the first time, the 23-year-old from Guadalajara fired a sparkling four-under-par 67 at El Camaleon Golf Club to end the opening round just two strokes off the lead.
While Will MacKenzie carded a 65 to set the pace with fellow Americans Robert Garrigus, Tony Finau, Steve Wheatcroft, Hudson Swafford and Daniel Berger, Ortiz commanded the spotlight after being watched by the biggest galleries of the day.
“Any PGA Tour event I play, I still get a little bit nervous,” Ortiz, who had made just four previous starts on the U.S. circuit, told Golf Channel after mixing six birdies with two bogeys.
“Here, with all the people cheering for me and all the expectations, I got a little bit more nervous than normal.”
As a youngster, Ortiz learned the game playing at Guadalajara Country Club where former women’s world number one Lorena Ochoa also played and would dearly love to follow in her footsteps as a role model.
“With all she accomplished, it really helped golf here in Mexico,” the Web.com Tour graduate said of his compatriot, a 27-time winner on the LPGA Tour who announced her retirement from competition in 2010 at the age of 28.
“If I could do anything similar to what she did, it would be great. Hopefully I can help golf in Mexico keep growing.”
American Harris English, who won last year’s OHL Classic by four shots, launched his title defence with a 67 to give himself a welcome boost after struggling with his game in recent months.
“It’s a huge confidence boost coming back, kind of reliving all the good shots I hit last year,” said English, whose victory 12 months ago was one of six top-10s in his first 10 events on the 2013-14 PGA Tour before he struggled for form.
“I played a lot better, hit some really good shots out there and gave myself a lot of good chances. It hurt on the last hole, three-putting (for bogey), but I‘m still going to take a lot of positives away from the day.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury