PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Heading into the final round on Sunday, four household names sit atop the Players Championship leaderboard: Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. It’s a notable group because of their star power, but also because none are American; it’s the first time that the top three has been U.S.-free in the Players history. But there’s another international player lurking, one golf fans are learning more about: Mexico’s Abe Ancer, who sits alone in fifth.
It’s Ancer’s first trip to the Players Championship, but he’s made himself right at home. Through 54 holes, Ancer leads the field in birdies with 19. He’s avoided big-time trouble, staying double-free. And he sounds high on confidence. “Abe,” one reporter asked after his third round. “You felt pretty good with the putter?”
“No,” Ancer replied. “I felt great. Even the putts I missed on the front nine for birdie, I felt like I rolled them exactly where I was looking, they ended up just not going in.”
To hear Ancer tell it, the success he has found in his second full year on Tour has come from an increased level of comfort. As a rookie, Ancer said he strayed from his own game.
“I just tried to change a lot of things,” he said. “I didn’t really stick to what got me to the PGA Tour in the first place. I wanted to hit it farther, I wanted to hit it higher, and it just didn’t really pan out very well. I changed equipment all the time, which was terrible. But it was good that it happened and I learned what to do, and like I said, I’ve been really good at just trusting my game and just playing what really, what got me here in the first place.”
Ancer’s club equipment situation has recently stabilized with a unique deal with Miura, whose irons he began playing last year. In addition to representing Miura on the PGA Tour, Ancer is a full partner in the company’s Mexico distribution rights. His game has stabilized, too, with two top-fives in the Fall Series plus a win at the Australian Open in his final start of 2018.
But a strong Sunday at the Players would elevate Ancer to a new level altogether. His 54-hole position is the highest of any Latin-born player, a fact he called “kind of surprising.”
“There’s a lot of Latin players that are extremely good,” he said. “A bunch of friends that I know, they’ve got the game to win every week out here. But it’s just, I mean, it’s a funny game. Like I said, golf is a little bit crazy how it works, but I’m happy to be up there and hopefully kind of show that we can win an event like this or stay at the very top.”
Off the course, Ancer has been focusing on his grilling this week. “Ribeyes, New York strip, filet — we also did some scallops,” he said. Some Mexican food, too, and the occasional vegetable. Sunday, the heat will be on Ancer in the third-to-last tee time. He’s looking forward to see how he handles it.
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