He began brilliantly and his ending wasn’t too shabby, either. Leading from start-to-finish after opening with a seven-under 63, Abraham Ancer claimed the title and a cheque for $1 million at the Asian Tour’s PIF Saudi International. Closing with a 68 in which he dropped only one shot, the 31-year-old Mexican’s 19-under 261 total was two strokes better than runner-up Cameron Young in what felt like a one-on-one showdown between the LIV Golf regular and the reigning PGA Tour rookie of the year. Australia’s Lucas Herbert was third, four shots behind the champion and one ahead of Thailand’s Sadom Kaewkanjana.
Only once and only briefly during the final round over the 7,010-yard Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City was Ancer caught. Four birdies over the opening seven holes from Young — one of three PGA Tour members to request and receive a conflicting-event release to compete in the event — had the pair level. But Ancer’s two at the short par-3 eighth, where Young made bogey, opened a two-shot advantage that was never again completely closed. Without having to make another birdie over the closing 10 holes, the University of Oklahoma graduate who moved to LIV from the PGA Tour last summer comfortably maintained his edge over Young, who has flown back to the US to play in this week’s WM Phoenix Open, one of the PGA Tour’s new ‘designated’ events.
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“That was a lot of fun and the first time I’ve been able to win wire-to-wire,” said Ancer, whose four professional victories have come on four different tours (Web.com, PGA Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia and now, the Asian Tour). “I played good every single day. I kept telling myself I was in 20th place and didn’t really look at the leader board much. I felt pretty much in control of my game.”
All of which was in contrast to Ancer’s one previous start in 2023. A week earlier he had missed the cut in the DP World Tour’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic
“I know from previous years that the first event after the break is usually not very solid,” Ancer said. “Especially in the first round, I am always rusty. I actually played well in the second round and only missed the weekend by a shot. So I came here feeling like my game was in a good spot. You need a short memory as a golfer. And this week was, I believe, the most I have ever felt in control of the golf ball. I made only two bogeys all week. So this has to be one of the best ball-striking tournaments I’ve had for sure.
“I never like to feel comfortable to the point where I feel like I can just par in,” he continued, despite doing just that over the closing nine holes. “You don’t want to be thinking that. I stayed focused on being in the moment, even when Cam came out all guns blazing and made some birdies on the front nine. The par save I made on seven was huge. Then the long putt I made for birdie on eight really set the tone and calmed me down.”
While Ancer was the undoubted star of the show, this was a week dominated by those, like the champion, who compete on the LIV Golf League (the lead sponsor of the Saudi International is also the financial backer of the new circuit). Of the top 11 finishers, other than Kaewkanjana, only Young and Herbert (who also received a release from the PGA Tour to play this week) weren’t regulars on LIV. Indeed, the event at Royal Greens served for many as a warm-up tournament ahead of LIV Golf’s official season-opener later this month at Mayakoba Golf Resort in Mexico.
Which is not to say this week represented success all the way for the LIV players. Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Open champion Cameron Smith, Bubba Watson, Justin Harding and Kevin Na were among those who missed the halfway cut, all likely appreciative to knock off the competitive rust as they get set to play in Mexico in three weeks.