Cortez leads after Day 1 of South Texas Jr. Golf Classic

La Feria alumnus and UTRGV commit Andy Cortez putts the ball at the sixth hole of Day 2 of the South Texas Junior Golf Classic on Sunday at Harlingen Country Club in Palm Valley. By Stefan Modrich, The Brownsville Herald

PALM VALLEY — La Feria alumnus Andy Cortez took the golf course Saturday morning with some extra emotion.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley commit has been a part of the South Texas Junior Golf Classic since he was 12 years old, but Saturday marked the start of Cortez’s final go-around in the tournament.

“Honestly, there were plenty of emotions when I took the course today,” Cortez said. “This was the first tournament I ever played in as a kid and I started off here, and for me to know this is my last time here it is pretty emotional. And (today) will be the last time I tee off in this tournament, and I’m just trying to post the best scores I can.”

Cortez who has won the tournament twice, got off to a roaring start and led after Day 1 of the STJGC, shooting a 68 and sitting at 4-under par.

“You expect some wind here in the Valley but there was no wind today, and it got hotter as the day went on. But it was perfect scoring conditions,” Cortez said.

Behind Cortez is Harlingen South’s Javi Vento who shot a 71 and is at 1-under. Parker Smith of Harlingen High shot 72 and is third. Tied for fourth are Edinburg High’s Ethan Galvan and Harlingen High’s Nate Newman, after each shot 77.

Newman and Cortez were the talk of the day, as the two locked horns on the back nine and answered each other’s shots throughout.

“We were going at it all afternoon on the back nine,” Cortez said of Newman. “He would get a birdie and I would answer with a birdie, and he was up and down for par, and he was keeping up with me and I was keeping up with him. At the end one of us was going to wear out, and thankfully I didn’t and I finished strong.”

Newman showed plenty of poise despite going up against one of the Valley’s best in Cortez. Newman will be a junior this coming school year and was up for the challenge.

“Today was fun. I enjoyed playing with Andy. I’m really good friends with him,” Newman said. “On the back nine was fun, too. On the front nine, I had a little bit of a speed bump, but I’m fine. It was a fun day. Andy makes me feel a little bit pressured, but it makes me get a better shot.”

On the girls side, Madison Ozuna is in first after shooting a 5-over-par 77. Tied for second are Valeria Ruiz-Franzoni and Mason Pena, who each shot 86, and Catherine Flores is in fourth after an 87.