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Hunter and Ortego grab early leads at Carlton Woods Invitational

If there’s a mid-am tournament in the Houston area, chances are the names of John Hunter and David Ortego will be near the top of the leaderboard.

Playing what amounts to a home game this week, both players enjoy first-round leads at the Carlton Woods Invitational being held in The Woodlands, Texas.

Hunter, who makes his home in nearby Spring, shot a 4-under 68 to open a three-shot lead on the field. His near-flawless round began with a pair of birdies out of the gates. He then moved to 3-under with another birdie on the par-3 seventh hole and got it to 4-under with his fourth birdie on the day on the par-5 13th hole.

He quickly erased his lone bogey of the day on the 15th with a birdie on the very next hole and finished with a pair of pars for a round of 68.

Hunter, a former college baseball player at Purdue, has had his fair share of success in the Houston area, most recently winning the Champions Cup Invitational at Champions Golf Club in northwest Houston with partner Brad Segreto. He is also a past winner of the Greater Houston Amateur and the John R. Williams Four-Ball Invitational (with Kyle Nathan) at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, NY.

Three shots back at 1-under are Padden Nelson (Houston, Texas), Jon Lindstrom (Denver, Colo.) and Chad Niezing (Manchester, Mo.).

Nelson opened his first round with 11 straight pars before dropping a shot on the 12th. However, he picked up birdies on holes 15 and 16 to finish his day in the red.

Lindstrom’s 71 consisted of two birdies and a bogey while Niezing had the most interesting round of the day.

The former Missouri Amateur champion bogeyed the first three holes and after settling down with a par on the fourth hole, birdied four of his next eight holes to move to 1-under on the day. He dropped a shot on 16 but bounced right back with his fifth birdie of the day on 17 before eventually signing for a hard-fought 71.

Former U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up Joe Deraney, who won this event in 2018, is part of a large group at 1-over par.

Scott Maurer was 5-under on his round through 14 holes but finished bogey-bogey-bogey-triple to fall to 1 over.

Defending Senior Division champion Ortego starts strong

In the senior division, defending champion David Ortego carded a 2-under round of 70 to take a one-stroke lead over four-time champion and Texas Golf Hall-of-Famer Mike BookerKip Estep and William Shock.

After making an early double bogey on the par-4 second hole, Ortego, 63, went 4-under the rest of the day for a round of 70. Booker was the only player in either division to put together a bogey-free round on Tuesday, finishing with 17 pars and a birdie on the par-5 fourth to sit one back of Ortego.

Gary Durbin was 4-under par through 12 holes and held a three-shot lead but made two sixes in three holes, on the par-5 13th and the par-4 15th, arguably the hardest hole on the course. Another bogey on 17 led to a even-par round of 72, but the two-time Texas Senior Amateur champion and Houston native is just two strokes off the pace.

Defending champion Jeronimo Esteve struggled to an 80 with his lone birdie coming on the final hole.

Notebook: Jack Nicklaus was at Carlton Woods over the weekend and commented on how much he loved the setup of the course, particularly the “native area” high grass cut, but he warned against getting the green speeds too high…the greens were stimping 12.3 on Tuesday morning…Annika Sorenstam was seen practicing at Carlton Woods over the weekend in preparation for her first U.S. Women’s Open appearance since 2008, which is just one month away…both Nicklaus and Sorenstam were in The Woodlands for the 3M Greats of Golf exhibition in conjunction with the PGA Tour Champions Insperity Invitational.


Esteve captures Carlton Woods Invitational with final round 66

Jeronimo Esteve (Windermere, Fla.) shot a final-round 6-under 66 at the Nicklaus Course at The Club at Carlton Woods to come from three shots back and win the 15th Carlton Woods Invitational.

Esteve, a 39-year-old Puerto Rico native and cancer survivor, started the day three shots behind overnight leader Chris Wheeler (Addison, Texas) but turned in a history-making round to run away with the tournament.

The Nicklaus Course at Carlton Woods has long enjoyed a reputation for being a supreme championship test, having hosted two USGA championships, the Southern Amateur, and the Texas Amateur. But Esteve racked up eight birdies, including on the final three holes, to record the lowest score in CWI history.

Esteve also set a new record for the lowest 54-hole score on the Nicklaus Course at 6 under par.

Wheeler, the 2019 Texas Mid-Amateur champion, got off to a good start with two pars and a birdie at the par-3 third, but then had back-to-back doubles to go out in 39 as Esteve picked up six shots on the front nine.

Two more birdies early on the back nine put Esteve firmly in control of the tournament, and though he made consecutive bogeys at 14 and 15, he rallied in style with three birdies to finish.

Esteve has long been a top mid-amateur player but gained renown for his bout with lymphoma in 2011, for which he had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment while trying to play competitive golf. At the U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier that year, he shot a 70, received radiation treatment after the round, and then raced back to the course for a 5-for-4 playoff through which he advanced to the championship.

He has played in many big championships but this is his first win in a national mid-amateur event.

2019 Birmingham National Invitational champion and former U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up Brad Nurski (St, Joseph, Mo.) closed with a 70 to finished tied for second at even par with Scott Maurer of Dallas who shot 73.

Wheeler (76) finished in a tie for fourth in his first CWI appearance, joining two-time champion Colby Harwell (San Antonio, Texas), Aaron Hickman (Tyler, Texas) and Harley Abrams (Tulsa, Okla.) a 1-over 217.

2017 CWI champion Justin Kaplan (Houston, Texas) finished 8th, while the defending champion Philip Lee (Nashville, Tenn.) tied for 13th.

SENIOR DIVISION

David Ortego (Spring, Texas) broke through for a one-shot victory, enduring a turbulent final round but ultimately finishing one shot ahead of Gordy McKeown (Little Rock, Ark.) and William Mitchell (Atlanta, Ga.).

Ortego, whose previous best finish in the senior CWI was a tie for fifth, took a four-shot lead into the final round, but had an up and down final round of four birdies and seven bogeys. He responded well to the adversity, answering a three-bogey streak with two birdies, and then stopping a two-bogey streak with a birdie. He took a two-shot lead into the final hole, where bogey was enough to secure the title at 1 under.

McKeown started the day seven shots back, then fell further behind with a slow start through five holes. But he went five under from there, including a birdie-par-birdie-eagle finish to shoot 69 and post a target score of even par.

Mitchell closed with a 72 for his second top-4 finish this week, following up his 4th place at the Timuquana Cup with a joint runner-up at the senior CWI.

Randy Haag (Orinda, Calif.) and Billy Joe Tolliver (St. Gabriel, La.) rounded out the top five.

2015 senior CWI winner Lee Sandlin (Dallas, Texas) finished 9th. Lewis Stephenson, the defending champion who also won in 2016, finished 12th, while four-time champ Mike Booker (Houston, Texas) tied for 13th.