RALEIGH The Web.com Tour is filled with young golfers in a hurry to make a name for themselves and make their way to the PGA Tour.
Carlos Ortiz fits the young-and-in-a-hurry mode. At 23, the Mexico native is the tour’s leading money winner as a rookie and shared the first-round lead Thursday at the Rex Hospital Open with a 7-under-par 64.
Colt Knost, with a late-afternoon 64 at TPC Wakefield Plantation, tied Ortiz for the lead. Ortiz and Knost were one shot ahead of Max Homa, another 23-year-old rookie who is coming off a victory last week in the BMW Charity Pro-Am that bumped him up to ninth on the money list and eased some tension.
“I feel a lot comfortable this week,” said Homa, the 2013 NCAA medalist at California. “It almost feels like I’m playing this week with house money.”
The phrase “house money” is a foreign one for Ortiz. But he came to the Rex with a pair of wins and more than $363,000 in official money.
“He’s been playing so well all year, it’s a given to see his name up there,” said Knost, who has two career Web.com victories. “But I can’t control that. On this tour you have to be aggressive. Go out there and fire at a lot of pins and try to make a lot of birdies.”
Knost, the 2007 U.S. Amateur champion, matched Ortiz with seven birdies in his first competitive round at Wakefield. Ortiz had a run of four straight birdies beginning at the par-4 11th hole and did not have a bogey in his round.
Should Ortiz win this week, he would head to the Memorial Tournament – where he has a sponsor’s exemption for next week’s event – as a PGA Tour member. Three Web.com Tour wins in a year earns instant promotion to the big tour.
“But I’m just going out there to have fun,” Ortiz said. “Hit fairways, hit greens. I’m not trying to think of the results or what might happen.”
Then there’s Len Mattiace, who is older, more seasoned, and with a name that still resonates with a lot of golf fans.
Mattiace at 46 has four more years until he’s eligible for the Champions Tour, but the former Wake Forest All-America must play well enough to stay on the Web.Com Tour.
“It’s been a lot of years but I love to play and I love to compete,” said Mattiace, who had a 71 Thursday. “I’m just trying to do a few good things here in the game.”
Mattiace helped Wake Forest win a national championship in 1986 and did good things on the PGA Tour. He won twice in 2002 and a year later surged into contention in the final round of the 2003 Masters.
With a 65, Mattiace was the clubhouse leader and anxiously watched as Mike Weir played the final holes. Weir forced a sudden-death playoff, then won with a bogey on the first hole.
Mattiace was that close to a green jacket and a degree of golf immortality as a Masters champion. As he put it, “I would have been defined as a major winner.”
It was not to be, but Mattiace refused to let it ruin his life or career. Nor did he allow injuries to both knees in a skiing accident later in 2003 keep him from returning to form, to the PGA Tour.
“Things would have been different, sure, but that’s the way it goes. Only one guy can win,” he said of the Masters. “Mike (Weir) was in the final group that day and had all the pressure on him to make pars coming in. He did what he had to do to get in the playoff, so good for him.”
All these years later, Mattiace has maintained his conditioning, maintained a positive attitude. He has played just two PGA Tour events the past two years but believes he has the willingness to work and the game to get him back on the big tour before he turns 50.
“Playing out here is very physically demanding,” he said. “It takes a toll but I look forward to the challenge.”
Part of that challenge is trying to keep up with someone like Ortiz, who has been white-hot in his first professional year.
“Obviously he’s a good player,” Mattiace said, smiling. “He’s got everything in front of him.”