Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers for the third consecutive day after posting a flawless six-under-par 64 to impressively progress to 17 under for the US$5 million event.
American Cameron Young shot a 65 to sit in second place, two strokes back, while American Matthew Wolff (63), Lucas Herbert from Australia (67) and Thailand’s Sadom Kaewkanjana (68) are a distant seven behind the leader in a tie for third.
Ancer, the diminutive golfer with the big game, is bidding to become the first player to win this tournament wire to wire and took another important step towards that today with an accomplished round, devoid of dropped shots.
Three birdies on the front and three on the back, including on the 18th, allowed him to keep his big hitting playing partner Young at bay.
Said Ancer: “Another very solid round. Happy with no dropped shots. That’s always my goal. On a golf course like this where it’s blowing pretty good, I’m really, really happy.
“My ball striking has definitely been on, and I’ve been rolling it really nice all week. Yeah, extremely happy. Not really focused on what everybody else is doing. Just trying to play the same game I’ve been playing the past three days.”
Surprisingly he missed the cut last week in Dubai but was far from being concerned.
“Back home, I’ve been practicing quite bit leading up to Dubai, and I felt really good back home. Then on the way over here, it always takes a little bit of time to get adjusted to the time change and all that stuff. And definitely tournament golf is different than just playing back home,” said Ancer, who during a 10-year professional career has recorded two significant victories, the 2018 Australian Open, and WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in 2021.
“So, I played worse than I was expecting on my first round, and then I played nicely in my second round, missed the cut by one. But I knew I was in a good spot, and I felt like a couple things were clicking towards the end of the round there.
“So just brought that over here. Not surprised, just playing my game. It’s nice to see my name up there. Can’t really focus on that. Just got to do it again.”
A fascinating two-horse race is set for tomorrow between a pair who have completely contrasting styles, which was so clearly evident on the par-five 18th today. Ancer laid up to about 100 yards but nailed his approach to five feet and holed out, while Young airmailed the green with his second shot, using an iron, but was only able to make par.
Despite that finish the American has no intention of holding back tomorrow.
“Yeah, very much the same. Hit a lot of drivers and try to make a bunch of birdies,” he said.
“I think I’ve played really solidly. Obviously, Abe’s playing some really nice golf. So I think tomorrow will be fun. I think pretty much the same. I think, if the wind is similar to today, it will probably take 62 or 3 or 4 because I don’t see Abraham shooting anything bad.”
Wolff’s joint best round of the week (Ancer also shot 63 on Thursday) was set up by a front nine of six-under-par 29 and the American was in buoyant mood after the round, suggesting he senses an outside chance on Sunday.
“It felt easy,” said 23 year old, who tied sixth here last year.
“It felt like I’m finally starting to hit my driver the way I’m looking to. It’s such a weapon on this golf course when I’m hitting it where I want to. I’m having short clubs in and I can kind of attack these flags. I felt really good with every part of my game.
“But I think it was the putting. I made quite a few putts out there today and didn’t the first couple of days. I think that was definitely the difference. It seemed like it all came together nicely for me today.”
Sadom, who played in the final pairing with Ancer and Young, was in contention for much of the day and was looking in control until he bogeyed 14 and made double on 16.
“I thought today was tough for me, and I think to play the course under par is a good result. Tomorrow, I think I can get a better score than today,” he said.
He made five birdies in a row on the front side to mount a challenge before the wheels came off.
Added the Thai star, who won last year’s SMBC Singapore Open: “I putted pretty good, five birdies in a row so I hit my irons good also. I had a good momentum on the front nine, but the back nine was tough for me because it was windy on holes 14 to 17.”
Scores after round 3 of the Saudi International being played at the par 70, 7048 Yards Royal Green GCC course (am – denotes amateur):
193 – Abraham Ancer (MEX) 63-66-64.
195 – Cameron Young (USA) 65-65-65.
200 – Matthew Wolff (USA) 70-67-63, Lucas Herbert (AUS) 68-65-67, Sadom Kaewkanjana (THA) 66-66-68.
201 – Jason Kokrak (USA) 67-67-67.
202 – Mito Pereira (CHI) 73-64-65, Paul Casey (ENG) 68-67-67, Marc Leishman (AUS) 68-64-70.
203 – Travis Smyth (AUS) 69-69-65, Ian Poulter (ENG) 73-65-65, Talor Gooch (USA) 70-66-67, Bernd Wiesberger (AUT) 69-67-67.
204 – Nitithorn Thippong (THA) 68-70-66, Branden Grace (RSA) 71-66-67, Hennie Du Plessis (RSA) 67-68-69, Patrick Reed (USA) 67-68-69, Richard Bland (ENG) 67-67-70.
205 – Anirban Lahiri (IND) 71-69-65, Joaquin Niemann (CHI) 68-72-65, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 70-68-67, Jinichiro Kozuma (JPN) 70-68-67, Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 70-67-68, Shubhankar Sharma (IND) 67-69-69, Brooks Koepka (USA) 69-67-69, Cameron Champ (USA) 69-67-69, Bjorn Hellgren (SWE) 68-68-69, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 65-70-70, Taylor Dickson (USA) 69-66-70, Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 65-67-73.
206 – Matthew Cheung (HKG) 71-69-66, Jediah Morgan (AUS) 73-66-67, Andy Ogletree (USA) 73-65-68, Sebastian Munoz (COL) 64-73-69, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA) 70-67-69, Ding Wenyi (am, CHN) 70-66-70, Stefano Mazzoli (ITA) 70-66-70, Andrew Dodt (AUS) 68-68-70, Jbe Kruger (RSA) 71-64-71, Ian Snyman (RSA) 66-68-72.
207 – Yeongsu Kim (KOR) 72-67-68, Cameron Tringale (USA) 71-67-69, Graeme McDowell (NIR) 70-67-70, Scott Vincent (ZIM) 66-69-72.
208 – Takumi Kanaya (JPN) 68-72-68, Kyongjun Moon (KOR) 72-67-69, Peter Uihlein (USA) 72-67-69, Richard T. Lee (CAN) 70-69-69, Wade Ormsby (AUS) 69-70-69, Kosuke Hamamoto (THA) 70-67-71, Sanghyun Park (KOR) 70-66-72, Harold Varner III (USA) 69-66-73.
209 – Phachara Khongwatmai (THA) 71-69-69, David Puig (ESP) 70-68-71.
210 – Lee Westwood (ENG) 68-72-70, Taehee Lee (KOR) 68-72-70, Laurie Canter (ENG) 70-69-71, Shiv Kapur (IND) 67-71-72, Pat Perez (USA) 70-67-73, Matt Jones (AUS) 68-68-74.
211 – Ratchanon Chantananuwat (am, THA) 67-66-78.
212 – Issa Abouelela (am, EGY) 72-68-72, Siddikur Rahman (BAN) 70-70-72, James Piot (USA) 72-68-72, Scott Hend (AUS) 72-68-72, Jazz Janewattananond (THA) 75-65-72, Todd Sinnott (AUS) 72-67-73, Kevin Yuan (AUS) 70-68-74.
213 – Ervin Chang (MAS) 69-71-73.
214 – El Mehdi Fakori (am, MOR) 71-69-74.
216 – Rashid Khan (IND) 70-70-76.