USA today sports
The Hero World Challenge is a bottleneck at the top. That shouldn’t come as a surprise.
After all, the field is made up of 20 players who represent the best the game has to offer, a field a Saudi Super League could drill its way into … not to mention a ton of money for the gig.
It should therefore come as no surprise that only three shots separated 12 of the candidates. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see names like Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka, and Bryson DeChambeau among them, too. It should come as no surprise to see the lead at 6 under par, a Route 66 pace through the exotic play areas of Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas.
Similar: McIlroy continues Hot Streak in Round 1 in the Bahamas
On the other hand, there might be a surprise. Perhaps for some it is a little unexpected that Abraham Ancer overflows the household names. You may be thinking, “Now there is a name that doesn’t belong.” And if so, it’s okay, Ancer won’t hold it against you. In fact, he readily admits, he used to feel the same way.
“When I got out on the tour for the first time, I had no mental chance,” said Ancer, 30. “I felt like I was always pretty strong and ready mentally, but no, there were some things at the beginning of my career that I have no idea if I have what it takes to be out here. “
Actually, Ancer corrected himself. He had a pretty good idea that he wasn’t one of them. In his 2016 rookie season, he missed 13 cuts in 19 starts and finished 190th in FedEx Cup points, costing him his playing card. Then he stood on a driving range, surrounded by giants with whom he played this week.
“I think it was my first event on the Tour in Napa back then, and I built myself up on the shooting range,” said Ancer, who was born in South Texas but grew up in Reynoso, Mexico, where he was until the age of 14 Years ago. ”It was a little chilly in the morning. It was my first PGA Tour event and Rory (McIlroy)… was there that week. Dustin Johnson I think or someone else is building up right next to me and I see him fling 5-irons to the wind.
“And they went like, I don’t know, 215 (yards), 220 in the cold wind, and I hit my 5 iron like 170, so deep. And I think, ‘I just don’t know if I really have what it takes.’
“It was a tough year, but after that I just told myself that I came there for a reason, I didn’t have to change anything, just get better and believe in my game.”
Ancer is now a believer and makes all of us believers. He excelled at the University of Oklahoma, where he still ranks second after Anthony Kim on the average of his career. In November 2018 he won the 104th Emirates Australian Open in Sydney. At the Presidents Cup 2019 he scored three wins and five points, where he only lost to Tiger Woods in singles on Sunday.
At the beginning of this season he finished eighth in the PGA Championship, won the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational for his first PGA Tour “W” and collected nine top 10 finishes. This secured him a place in the elite hero field, and now he is right in the middle, tied with McIlroy and Daniel Berger.
Will it hold Who knows. There are 54 holes to play and three strokes that separate 12 competitors. All of them have more impressive credentials than Ancer. Regardless of this, Abraham Ancer knows one thing: He is one of them.
He did the job knowing.
“When I first went on tour, I didn’t really do much in the gym,” he said. “Physically, I didn’t really pay attention to it and quickly realized that I had to. So I’ve improved a lot in this area. On Saturdays and Sundays I was kind of tired and sluggish.
“Now I have the feeling that I will reach the climax on Saturday and Sunday and will only get better. As I said, I feel a lot safer mentally. It was a slow process. It just wasn’t … it wasn’t like I woke up one night and ready to go. Believing, working on the things I’ve worked on with my team and just knowing that I won’t see any results the next day. I was able to improve slowly every year. “
Mexican Lorena Ochoa reached the top of the pile in her career and rose to number 1 in the women before retiring at the age of 28, male Mexican player cracking the OWGR top 100. In the most recent ranking it rose to 12th place.
He doesn’t know if he can keep up with Ochoa’s performance, but he knows better than to sell himself. For now he is in the superstar field of the Hero World Challenge. And after the first day he is right at the top. That’s enough to think about first.
“This is my first time here and I absolutely love it,” said Ancer. “It’s a great place to just hang out, but it’s also a golf course that is very challenging. It’s going to be windy and it’s a tough test, but it’s in good shape.
“If you get the right shots, you can score. Of course I had a good day today, so I’m a bit biased, but I like it here. “
He should like it. Abraham Ancer is one of them.