Alvaro Ortiz, of Mexico, watches his tee shot on the...

Alvaro Ortiz, of Mexico, watches his tee shot on the first hole during the second round of the Mexico Open golf tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. Credit: AP/Fernando Llano

VALLARTA, Mexico — Alvaro Ortiz got off to a strong start and did just enough right at the end for a 7-under 64, giving him a share of the lead Friday in the Mexico Open as he goes for yet another victory in his home country.

This would be the biggest of all for Ortiz, who won twice on the Mexican Golf Tour at the end of last year. Ortiz is the younger brother of Carlos Ortiz, a PGA Tour winner who signed with Saudi-funded LIV Golf.

Ortiz was at 11-under 131 at breezy Vallarta Vidanta, tied with Jake Knapp, Matt Wallace of England and Sami Valimaki of Finland. Ortiz had a 64 of his own late in the afternoon, Wallace shot 65 and Valimaki had a 67.

Ortiz, who grew up in Guadalajara, has been trying to find his way since leaving Arkansas. He already has played in the Masters as the 2019 Latin America Amateur champion, and he qualified for the U.S. Open in 2021 at Torrey Pines.

He is back on the Korn Ferry Tour this year after splitting time last year on the Asian Tour, Mexican Golf Tour and Tour Americas.

“The more I play, the more comfortable I feel and I start to realize that I have the game,” Ortiz said. “I've been doing good work and (trying to) put four rounds together. Hopefully, I can do that this weekend.”

Ortiz started on the back nine and went out in 31, making birdie on all three of the par 5s, adding a pair of birdies in the 10-foot range. He made all pars on the front nine except for an eagle on the par-5 sixth.

Alvaro Ortiz, of Mexico, walks on the 14th green during...

Alvaro Ortiz, of Mexico, walks on the 14th green during the second round of the Mexico Open golf tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. Credit: AP/Fernando Llano

“It was very clean, very stress free and I was glad to be able to make that eagle on 6,” Ortiz said. “I feel like I was losing a little bit of momentum, but it was good to get that one back. Happy to be in the position you I’m in.”

First-round leader Erik van Rooyen picked up a pair of late birdies on the scoring holes and salvaged a 69, leaving the South African one shot behind.

Knapp is making his ninth career PGA Tour start, hoping to build on a third-place tie last month at Torrey Pines. The former UCLA player got to 11 under with a 193-yard approach to 2 inches on the par-4 16th, then missed a chance to take the outright lead on the par-5 18th when his 7-foot birdie try stayed out.

Wallace finished with a 30 on the front nine for the 65 that felt even better given his unusual approach to golf these day. He is known to start slowly and be forced to rally, so he and his caddie are now pretending they already are over par before even teeing off. Wallace decided he would start this day at 3-over par.

Matt Wallace, of England, studies his putt at the 9th...

Matt Wallace, of England, studies his putt at the 9th green during the second round of the Mexico Open golf tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. Credit: AP/Fernando Llano

“Then I bogeyed it, so I was 4 over, so I had to get it back,” he said. “That sort of determination and focus really helped.”

Valimaki joined them with birdies on his last two holes, both putts from the 6-foot range.

Valimaki was among 10 players from the European tour who earned PGA Tour cards this year. he was the first to get to 11 under until missing a 5-foot par putt on the par-3 13th, and then hitting into the water on the par-5 14th and making bogey. He finished strong, however, and goes into the weekend with high hopes.

Santiago de la Fuente of Mexico, who won the Latin American Amateur last month to qualify for the Masters, had a 69 and was five shots behind.

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