HONOLULU, HI – Abraham Ancer can't remember playing better with so little to show for it.
His hope is the payoff is not far away.
Ancer arrived in Hawaii for the Sony Open with his confidence still brimming from a solid debut in the Presidents Cup last month in Australia. He was among seven rookies on the International team. That didn't keep Adam Scott from saying on the eve of the matches he would be shocked if the 28-year-old Mexican wasn't “a big point winner for us.”
Ancer delivered by going unbeaten in four teams matches. And when the pressure was even greater — singles against Tiger Woods, with social media driving a plot that Ancer wanted a piece of him — Ancer held his own until Woods outlasted him in 16 holes to start a U.S. comeback.
“A lot of good stuff came out of the Presidents Cup,” Ancer said. “Just playing a lot of golf under a lot of pressure. I like to put myself in those situations. I become a better player when I put myself in those situations, and moving forward, I feel like I will be a little calmer in situations where I would be normally stressed out.”
He felt like every shot mattered, not just for him but for the team.
Now he's back on his own, playing against a 144-man field at windy Waialae Country Club, not nearly as many fans watching from along the ropes or in front of the TV.
He is among 15 of the top 50 in the world ranking, led by Justin Thomas, who won the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week at Kapalua and has won three of his last six starts on the PGA Tour.
Ancer is still looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He won late in 2018 at the Australian Open, which earned him a spot in the British Open. He did well enough last year, particularly his runner-up finish to Patrick Reed at Liberty National, to make it the Tour Championship and earn a spot in the Masters for the first time.
“It just shows me what I need to get better at, how you feel under pressure,” Ancer said of his 3-1-1 mark at Royal Melbourne. “I can take that and look back when I'm in a situation like that, maybe playing in the last round for a chance to win. I'll draw back and remember how I felt that day.”
A great week for him ended awkwardly because of his match against Woods.
Ancer was asked a month before the Presidents Cup who he wanted to play, and he mentioned Woods, the greatest of his generation and an idol for most players on both teams in Melbourne.
It was portrayed as poking Tiger, with his quote posted on social media accounts as a reminder. Woods played well, and the match turned on the 14th hole when Woods made an 8-foot par putt and Ancer missed his par from about 6 feet. Woods went 2 up and closed him out with a birdie on the 16th.
“Abe wanted it. He got it,” Woods said during the winner's press conference.
Ancer didn't want the loss or the narrative to ruin an otherwise good week.
“I tried not to let it get to me," Ancer said. “That was actually a month before in Mayakoba when I got asked this question. I was like, 'Well out of the 12 guys who would I like to play on a big stage in a big event like that? Yeah, obviously I would like to play my hero growing up, Tiger Woods. It would be an incredible experience."
And it was, on and off the course.
“I didn't only learn from the golf course and from golf, I learned a lot about the media and how it can get twisted,” he said. "Definitely got twisted, just the context how I said things. And maybe Tiger didn't know the way I said it. He just kind of took it from what he was reading or what he heard, which is fine.
“Maybe it was a little bit of a downer because people didn't know I said it,” Ancer said. “Some guy reached out to me and said, ‘You were really, really cocky.’ I was like, ‘What?’ I was thrown off by some of the comments.”
Ancer faces a big year, his first playing in all four majors, and he virtually is a lock to represent Mexico in the Olympics.
For now, golf is back to the individual sport it normally is. Six of his teammates from the Presidents Cup are at the Sony Open, including Marc Leishman, with whom Ancer won a match and halved another.
Matt Kuchar is the defending champion. Thomas will try to sweep the Hawaii swing for the second time in three years.
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