Abraham Ancer gets first win at WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational
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Outlasts Sam Burns, Hideki Matsuyama in playoff on wild, windy afternoon
Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
Abraham Ancer wins three-way playoff at WGC-FedEx St. Jude
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Today is your day.
Benji Thompson, who caddies for Abraham Ancer, kept repeating those words as chaos reigned in the final round of the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
“Walking off 16 I couldn't believe I was tied for the lead,” said Ancer, who wound up with the trophy after one of the zanier conclusions to a PGA TOUR event in recent memory. “I felt like I was maybe four strokes behind. You just don't know what can happen out here, man. It's crazy.”
On a wild, windy afternoon when golf balls splashed into ponds and Harris English (73), Bryson DeChambeau (74) and Cameron Smith (72) went backward, Ancer (68) kept his nerve and seized his first PGA TOUR title with a birdie on the second hole of a three-man playoff.
He outlasted Hideki Matsuyama (63) and Sam Burns (64), who began the day nine and eight shots behind, respectively, with a 6-foot birdie putt. Burns, from just inside Ancer, lipped out.
Ancer goes to sixth in the FedExCup and a career-high 11th in the world ranking. He’s the fourth player from Mexico to win on TOUR and the second this season (Carlos Ortiz, Vivint Houston Open).
The word he kept coming back to afterward: “Crazy.”
If that described the finish, then let the record show it was a crazy start to the week, too, at least for the 19 players in the field who competed in the Olympics in Tokyo and flew across 14 time zones to be here.
Coming off a T14 in Japan, Ancer, whose cap advertises his own tequila brand, coped partly by drinking a lot of coffee. Whether or not it was the java, something clearly worked, as he did not make a double bogey all week. This, while English was making doubles at the par-3 11th and 14th holes to come back to the field, an out-of-sorts Bryson DeChambeau tripled 11, and even a red-hot Burns doubled 13.
Golf-watchers predicted Ancer would win soon after he went 3-1-1 for the 2019 International Presidents Cup Team, but the close calls (four runner-up finishes) were starting to pile up. This season he’d notched a fourth at the Shriners Children's Open, T5 at The American Express, fifth at the Valspar, second at the Wells Fargo, fourth at the Travelers Championship.
“I didn't want to think of like, oh, my God, I'm so due,” he said. “I didn't want to put extra pressure. I've done enough in other events to win, and it just didn't go my way, so I just stayed patient, I didn't change anything.”
Thompson, who used to work for the LPGA’s Lexi Thompson (no relation) and is on Ancer’s bag in the United States, kept telling him that first win was close. He was vocal again Sunday.
“I told him the last three holes when we saw the boys behind us had screwed up, I said, ‘Today is your day. Today is your day,’” said Thompson, who began working for Ancer at another WGC, the Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, earlier this season. “And I told him the same thing on the cart ride out there (to the 18th tee) the first time, and I think he actually believed it.”
Ancer led the field in scrambling (18/21) but was otherwise unremarkable, statistically. He was 55th in driving distance, 17th in Strokes Gained: Putting, fourth in SG: Tee to Green.
But if you could measure Strokes Gained: Patience, Ancer would have been right up there.
“He was calm all week,” Thompson said. “He’s been hitting it great. We’ve been talking and I’ve been saying, ‘Dude, you’re close. It’s coming.’ He got that second place at Quail Hollow. He didn’t show any signs of weakness today or get mad when things didn’t go his way.”
Not when the putts weren’t falling, and not when he saw English was 20 under.
“I was like, man, he' running away with it,” Ancer said. “I've got to make some birdies.”
Then he was only two back. Then the scoreboard reported that – wait. Huh?
“I keep looking,” he said. “I was like, man, they just came back two strokes. Another two! I'm tied for the lead?”
He was. And so were the others. This time, though, Ancer seized the moment. He was glad to be outside Burns on the second playoff hole; it meant he got to putt first after Matsuyama missed from long range. The match play instincts he’d shown at the Presidents Cup in Melbourne kicked in, and he made it to put the pressure on. When Burns’ ball did the horrible horseshoe, it was over.
Ancer, 30, was not one to watch, a future star, or an up-and-comer. He was a TOUR winner.
“It was definitely a lot of patience,” he said. “It was pretty much survival mode. I had some looks coming in, I just was really far away. I hit some good putts but didn't quite match the speed with the line or vice versa. It was crazy. I was definitely not expecting this outcome.”
Cameron Morfit began covering the PGA TOUR with Sports Illustrated in 1997, and after a long stretch at Golf Magazine and golf.com joined PGATOUR.COM as a Staff Writer in 2016. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.