For Abraham Ancer, “imminent” finally became “today.”
Over the past four seasons on the PGA Tour, the 30-year-old from Mexico has posted four runner-up finishes among 19 top 10s and 44 top 25s. He is the guy who is constantly in the mix, showing flashes of brilliance, but never quite being able to close the deal.
That all changed in Memphis, where Ancer got the better of LSU standout Sam Burns, a Tour winner just three months ago, and reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
However, for most of Sunday, it looked like Ancer’s best case scenario was yet another high finish that did not quite result in a victory. That was because Harris English, who held the lead after each of the first three rounds, looked as though he was going to run away with the title at TPC Southwind.
English began the final round with a two-stroke advantage, and was four ahead of Ancer, who started Sunday in solo-fourth.
Playing his front nine in 2-under, English’s lead reached as many as five, until he sent his tee shot on the difficult par 3 11th (a hole that three-time PGA Tour winner Si Woo Kim carded a 13 on), leading to a double bogey.
The back nine played much, much tougher than the front, and the final pairing of English and eight-time Tour winner Bryson DeChambeau found it especially difficult.
English added another double-bogey on 14, followed by a bogey on the par 5 16th. The duo was even put on the clock, further compounding their frustrations. English played his back nine in 5-over, while DeChambeau was 6-over.
Up ahead, Ancer was having difficulties on the greens, but he played the back nine in a bogey-free 1-under. He mentioned several times after his round that he had no idea how close he was to the lead, and had basically resigned himself to the fact that English was going to win.
For a time, it looked like the primary beneficiary of English’s back nine collapse would be Australia’s Cameron Smith, but a bogey on the par 5 15th and a double-bogey on the closing hole placed the 27-year-old two strokes back.
As English reached the final hole of regulation, it became obvious that, barring a miracle eagle at the par-4 18th, there would be a playoff that included Ancer, Burns, and Matsuyama. English had an opportunity to make it a four-man playoff, but his birdie attempt from 12 feet skidded just past the hole.
English shot a final round 3-over 73 to finish 15-under for the week, one short of the playoff.
Long playoffs have been all the rage on the PGA Tour in recent months, but the three-man overtime at TPC Southwind nearly lasted just a single hole. Playing the 18th, Matsuyama had a 20-foot birdie putt to clinch his first victory since his Masters breakthrough in April. It looked dead-on with just a few feet to go, but somehow lipped out. He tapped in for par, and the threesome headed back to the tee.
For the second go-round on TPC Southwind’s finishing hole, Ancer and Burns both knocked their approach shot within six feet of the hole. After Matsuyama missed his birdie putt from considerably further away, Ancer nailed his, and then watched as Burns had a lip-out of his own from about five feet.
Ancer finally had his long-waited spot in the winner’s circle.
Making his victory even more impressive is the fact that Ancer played in Tokyo the week prior, one of 19 players in the St. Jude field that represented their country at The Olympics. Most of those who made the insane trek from Tokyo to Memphis struggled with fatigue, particularly gold-medal winner Xander Schauffele, who finished T46 in the 66-man field, something he just does not do. Ancer finished T14 in Tokyo, while Matsuyama finished T4, reaching a thrilling seven-man playoff for the bronze medal.
Finishing in a tie for fifth at 14-under was Smith, Paul Casey, another member of that seven-man playoff a week ago, and Daniel Berger, who won twice at TPC Southwind before the FedEx St. Jude was promoted to a WGC event in 2020.
Leaderboard: Top 10
1. Abraham Ancer -16 (-2)*
2. Hideki Matsuyama -16 (-7)
2. Sam Burns -16 (-6)
4. Harris English -15 (+3)
5. Daniel Berger -14 (-4)
5. Paul Casey -14 (-3)
5. Cameron Smith -14 (+2)
8. Will Zalatoris -12 (-1)
8. Bryson DeChambeau -12 (+4)
10. Dustin Johnson -11 (E)
10. Ian Poulter -11 (+2)
*Won in playoff
Pos-Player-To Par-(Rd 4)
12. Rory McIlroy -10 (-4)
12. Jordan Spieth -10 (-3)
14. Scottie Scheffler -9 (+4)
15. Webb Simpson -8 (-6)
17. Matthew Wolff -7 (-3)
17. Joaquin Niemann -7 (-3)
17. Phil Mickelson -7 (-2)
17. Tyrrell Hatton -7 (+3)
17. Louis Oosthuizen -7 (+4)
23. Patrick Cantlay -6 (-3)
23. Shane Lowry -6 (E)
26. Collin Morikawa -5 (-1)
26. Justin Thomas -5 (+2)
26. Sergio Garcia -5 (+2)
31. Cameron Champ -4 (-2)
31. Patrick Reed -4 (E)
31. Lee Westwood -4 (+1)
34. Tony Finau -3 (+4)
36. Adam Scott -2 (-2)
36. Viktor Hovland -2 (+1)
36. Marc Leishman -2 (+3)
46. Xander Schauffele E (-2)
46. Tommy Fleetwood E (+2)
54. Justin Rose +2 (+5)
54. Brooks Koepka +2 (+6)
57. Matt Fitzpatrick +3 (+4)
How Abraham Ancer Won The WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational
Ancer missed several putts that would have precluded the playoff altogether, but he did tremendously to shoot a 2-under 68 that included just a single bogey. Ancer exploded into contention in the second round, when he shot an 8-under 62. He shot 3-under 67s in both rounds 1 and 3.
Ancer is not a long hitter, but is very precise, ranking highly on Tour in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation. For the week, Ancer ranked 10th in the former and fifth in the latter. His 20 birdies for the week ranked sixth in the field, and he had just four bogeys, which ranked second.
Ancer was fourth in the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green, fifth in strokes gained: approach-the-green, and sixth in strokes gained: around-the-green. He led the field in scrambling.
Ancer’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 295.8 yards (57th)
Fairways: 67.86% (38/56) (T10)
Greens: 70.83% (51/72) (T5)
Putts/GIR: 1.667 (T15)
Off the Tee: 1.375 (16th)
Approach the Green: 4.404 (5th)
Around the Green: 2.857 (6th)
Putting: 3.575 (10th)
Tee to Green: 8.635 (4th)
Total: 12.211 (T1)
What It Means For Ancer
For starters, a $1.8 million payday was by far the most lucrative check of Ancer’s career. That prodigious purse played a big role in getting so many players to agree to fly from Tokyo to Memphis this past week.
Mostly though, the win adds legitimacy to Ancer’s career, which was badly missing a win of some kind. A pair of high finishes in consecutive FedExCup playoffs (2018, 2019) put him on the Tour radar, but what really made him look like a future Tour star was when he starred for the losing International squad at the 2019 Presidents Cup.
In that team competition, he went 3-1-1, earning 3.5 points for his squad.
The win jumps Ancer from 23rd to a career-best 11th in the Official World Golf Ranking. He also moves to sixth in the FedExCup standings, with the playoffs set to tee off in two weeks.
Ancer’s 2021 Season
Cuts Made: 20
Wins: 1 (WGC-FedEx St Jude)
Additional Top 10: 6
Earnings: $5,539,831 (9th)
FedExCup Pts: 1,926 (6th)
World Rank Before/After: 23/11
With many contenders sputtering on Sunday, Hideki Matsuyama was dialed-in, shooting a bogey-free 7-under 63, the lowest round 4 score in the field. He exploded to the front on the back nine, carding birdies on 12, 13, 14, and 16.
The 63 followed up Saturday 64 where he had two eagles. Matsuyama gained more than five strokes on the field tee-to-green in both of those low weekend rounds. He jumped from T14 to T2 on the final leaderboard, for his third top 10 in 23 starts this season.
Sam Burns needed just one more stroke than Matsuyama, shooting a 6-under 64. Burns looked to be out of the mix when he double-bogeyed the par-4 13th, but birdied 15, 16, and 18 to reach the three-man playoff.
The 25-year-old won the Valspar Championship in May, and now has three other top-3 finishes in a breakout season. Burns jumped nine spots from T11 to T2 on the final leaderboard.
Matching Burns’ Sunday 64 was Webb Simpson, who began his fourth round with three consecutive birdies. Simpson had been struggling as of late, but he rocketed a high-field 29 spots up the Sunday leaderboard, from T44 to T15. Simpson won twice in the 2020 season, the 6th and 7th wins of his career.
Bryson DeChambeau’s 4-over 74 was very discouraging, and did not help his image after he faced heat for comments regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. DeChambeau had to withdraw from last week’s Olympic Games after testing positive. His back-nine collapse continued a disturbing recent history of struggles closing events.
He did finish T8, his first top 10 in eight starts, which would be more encouraging if he had not played so poorly near the lead. DeChambeau has had problems with consistency since finishing T3 at THE PLAYERS Championship in March.
South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen came to Memphis in some of the best form of his career, with four top-3 finishes in his last five starts, including runner-ups at the PGA Championship and U.S. Open, and a T3 at The Open Championship.
Passing on The Olympics, a rested Oosthuizen looked on the verge of another high finish, but a 4-over 74, lowlighted by a triple-bogey 6 on the par-3 14th, dropped him from T7 to T17.
Also shooting 74 on Sunday was Tony Finau, who has an even more impressive collection than Ancer of close calls, since winning the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. Finau played his final four holes in 5-over, including a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 16th. He dropped 17 spots down the leaderboard from T17 to T34.
Finau has seven top-10s on the season, but just one since a T10 at The Masters in April.
“I didn’t want to think ‘Oh my God, I’m so due’. I didn’t want to put extra pressure [on myself]. 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.”
– Abraham Ancer, WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational Champion