It was always going to be Abraham Ancer’s to win or lose, and Mexico’s newest golf sensation was in no mood to give it away at The Lakes Golf Club.
An emphatic victory followed for the 27-year-old who is the first of his countrymen to win the 103rd Australian Open.
Now with Nicklaus, Player, Palmer, Thomson, Norman, McIlroy, Spieth and the others, etch the name Ancer. “The names on this cup are absolutely incredible,’’ he said.
Ancer, the world’s 98th-ranked player who lives and plays in the United States, set it up with a brilliant third-round 65 when the conditions were difficult, then closed the door on everyone with another fine round today. Starting out with a lead of five shots, he was never really threatened. At one point he pushed the buffer out to seven; momentarily, when he bogeyed the 12th, Dimi Papadatos pulled within four.
But right at that moment Papadatas’ nerve failed him. A flared tee shot at the par-5 14th into sand, and four putts from long range on the difficult, undulating green gave him a double-bogey 7 when he could least afford it.
Ancer kept himself away from the many water hazards at The Lakes, although he went close to the hazard at the par-5 14th, just clearing it with his puzzlingly aggressive second shot. A chip up close and then a nice, curling birdie putt later, and he was untouchable.
He’d hit in the water on the second day and there was mud on his ball again. “The strike was really good and we saw it diving left and I thought, ‘Oh my God, not again.’ It cleared by a couple of yards, and obviously it was a really important moment in the round to keep momentum and keep ahead of everybody.’’
Ancer’s high point came at the fourth hole, where he made an incredible chip-in birdie from 30 metres, aiming as much as three metres left of the flag so that his ball curled off the bank behind the stick and back into the cup. “That was just a lot of fun,’’ he said. “I spend a lot of time on the chipping green. I absolutely love short game and crazy little shots like that.’’
He lipped out for birdies at the 16th and 17th then hit the green at the par-3 18th and two-putted for the win. His five-shot win was the largest margin of victory since Jordan Spieth won by six at The Australian in 2014.
Papadatos was runner-up at 11-under, by far his best result in an Open, and Queenslander Jake McLeod, last week’s New South Wales Open winner, was third at 10-under just ahead of veteran Marcus Fraser at nine-under.
Of the big names, Cameron Smith rattled home with 66 to finish 10th, but the Americans Keegan Bradley and Matt Kuchar (both 75) faded at the end.
For Ancer (along with Padadatos and McLeod), it gives him a start in next year’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. It is his second tournament victory as a professional, after the Novia Scotia Open 2015, but he is nobody’s idea of a journeyman. His world ranking will climb into the 60s next week and he is in the frame for Presidents Cup selection next year. He has shot in the 60s in 11 of his past 12 rounds.
“I’m on cloud nine right now,’’ he said. “It’s been a phenomenal week. It’s felt like a short week, because I got here on Wednesday when I normally get to tournaments on Mondays. But it’s been absolutely phenomenal. My first time in Australia, everybody told me how great it was and I feel like I love this country already in four or five days that I’ve been here.’’
He’s also a standard-bearer for Mexican golf. “Hopefully me playing well and winning this event will touch more kids in Mexico and they’ll start playing the game. Slowly but surely Mexican golf but also Latin American golf is growing.’’
The Australian Open returns to The Australian Golf Club from December 5-8 next year.
– Martin Blake