RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico (AP) — Colombian rookie Nico Echavarria seized control with two straight birdies on the back nine and closed with a 4-under 68 for a two-shot victory in the Puerto Rico Open for his first PGA Tour title.
Echavarria was soaked on a sunny day at Grand Reserve, with friends and family dousing him with champagne after he tapped in for par.
He tied the tournament record at 21-under 267.
“I’m happy with life right now,” Echavarria said. “After missing four cuts in a row, only making two cuts, you just doubt yourself. I’m very grateful I kept pushing and got it done.”
Akshay Bhatia, a 21-year-old who turned pro at 17 and plays on the Korn Ferry Tour, closed with a 65 to finish alone in second and earn special temporary membership on the PGA Tour, giving him unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season.
Carson Young, who led through 36 holes, had a 71 and finished third tied with Nate Lashley (69).
Echavarria, a 28-year-old who played at Arkansas, becomes the third Colombian to win on the PGA Tour, joining Sebastian Munoz and Camilo Villegas.
Villegas finished some two hours earlier and stuck around to celebrate with his fellow Colombian. Villegas had sent him a voice message on Saturday, when Echavarria built a two-shot lead, telling him that there would be a moment Sunday when the rookie felt the tournament slipping away.
That came on the sixth hole, where Echavarria escaped with a bogey when it could have been worse. He birdied the seventh, bogeyed the next hole and didn’t make a mistake the rest of the way.
“I was able to keep it together in a stressful moment,” Echavarria said. “I’m grateful he mentored me in that way.”
The victory gets him into The Players Championship, with its $25 million purse next week at the TPC Sawgrass. He also earned a spot in the PGA Championship and has a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
Echavarria now lives near TPC Sawgrass, and he dreaded being home that week because all the best are playing down the street.
“I’m glad I got my spot there,” he said.