Masters rookie Abraham Ancer makes statement with Friday 67 to vault into contention

AUGUSTA, Georgia — Abraham Ancer was already fired up about playing in his first Masters Tournament this week. When he watched his friend and fellow Mexican Carlos Ortiz win the Houston Open last Sunday, his enthusiasm went to another level.

Ancer has carried that over into the tournament, where he has shot 68-67 and is at 9-under 135. He was tied for the lead among those who finished 36 holes on Friday.

The second round was suspended by darkness with 48 players of the starting 91 yet to complete play in the second round. That will happen this morning, but no matter what happens, Ancer will be among the top players heading into the weekend regardless.

Ortiz’s win in Houston was the first by a Mexican on the PGA Tour in 42 years. Because the field for the 2020 Masters was frozen on March 17, after the tournament was rescheduled from April until this week, Ortiz’s invitation is for the 2021 tournament. didn’t get an 11th-hour invitation. He did qualify for the 2021 Masters.

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Ancer had arrived at Augusta National on Nov. 5 in order to get become comfortable with the Augusta National course. He was in the locker room at Augusta National on Sunday when Ortiz was in the mix to win the Houston Open.

“I was going to go play the back nine, but I was like, I’ve got to go watch my boy win this thing,” Ancer said. “I’ve never been that nervous watching somebody else play. I was actually freaking out there a little bit. So that was really cool to watch. It was awesome. I got pumped up. That day, I ended up practicing until dark here.  I was really excited, and motivated me, too.”

Ancer, who qualified for the Masters by making it to the 2019 Tour Championship and being inside the top 50 in the world (he’s now 21st), gained valuable experience last December in Australia as an international team player in the Presidents Cup. Ancer, a rookie, went 3-1-1, losing only his singles match 3-2  to Tiger Woods.

“I’ve always said that experience in Melbourne definitely prepared me or helped me feel a lot more comfortable, really, in any scenario I get put on or whoever I’m playing with or whatever tournament it is,” Ancer said. “I mean, the amount of pressure that you feel there, the excitement, every putt counts so much. That whole week was big for me and my career.”

Ancer was 9-under par for the 25 holes he played on Friday. He had to stop his first round ended his suspended first round on Thursday on a disappointing note, three-putting No. 11 for bogey.

“So I was a little bit mad about that, so we got called off, and so I had to be really patient and know that  … I mean, there’s no reason  … it’s not going to help me if I’m going to be mad and coming back and thinking about that.”

With the restart of the second round on Friday morning, that meant Ancer had to start his round on the devilish par-3 12th hole. He hit the green and two-putted for par.

“I felt good, I knew what my number would be so I hit some 9-irons on the range,” he said.

“It’s a challenging tee shot coming back and starting on 12, but I managed to hit the green and two-putt, and from there it was really nice, smooth sailing.”

It certainly was. After the par on No. 12,  Ancer played his final six holes to complete his first round in 4-under par, striking for making birdies on Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 18, giving him six for the round. In his afternoon round of 67, he had six more birdies to offset a bogey on No. 10 to start his round, including birdies on three par 3s.

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