Coming into this week, there was a case to be made that Abraham Ancer was the best golfer without a PGA Tour win. After finishing at 16 under and beating Hideki Matsuyama and Sam Burns in a two-hole playoff at the 2021 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in Memphis, that case can no longer be made.
Ancer was not immense for most of the the final round at TPC Southwind. He was good, not spectacular, shooting a nice 68 that should have netted him yet another top 10, which would have been his 10th in the last two years. However, the final pairing of Harris English and Bryson DeChambeau wilted over the last nine holes -- they shot a combined 81 on the back nine -- and a surprised Ancer found himself in a playoff for his first career win despite trailing English by five heading into the back nine.
After three pars at the first playoff hole, Ancer stuck his approach on the second and look like a sure thing to cash his first victory. Then Burns dropped his approach inside of Ancer, and the ending got ambiguous. However, after Ancer buried his 6-footer for birdie, Burns missed his putt, and Ancer's reward was (by far) the biggest win of his professional career.
There have been close calls over the course of his 121 PGA Tour starts. Four solo runner-up finishes in the last three years. A sweet run at the 2020 Masters. A T8 at this year's PGA Championship. Enough near-misses that it seemed inevitable that victory was imminent. Victories are never as close as they appear, though, and Ancer getting his first at a WGC event right before the 2021 FedEx Cup Playoffs is a huge deal.
That Ancer made his putt and Burns missed his on Sunday does not change how Ancer should be perceived. He's the same golfer now that he was at the beginning of the week. But because so much of professional golf is exclusively evaluated based on wins and losses, it's nice that Ancer has a tally mark in that column now. He's no longer the best player on the PGA Tour with no wins. Given his game and his level of play over the last few years and the fact that he'll move into the top 20 in the world on Monday morning, he might soon be the best player on tour with just one. Grade: A+
Here are the rest of our grades for the 2021 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
T2. Hideki Matsuyama (-16): Matsuyama has had an amazing year, month and now week. After winning the Masters in April and nearly medaling last week at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Matsuyama entered Saturday's third round T30 in this field before shooting nine-hole scores of 31-33-32-31 and basically not missing a shot for two straight days. He nipped the right edge from 18 feet on the first playoff hole, and it easily could have fallen, which may have made him the frontrunner for PGA Tour Player of the Year. Regardless, it's great to see a locked-in Matsuyama having the season he's having with three huge playoff events on deck. Grade: A+
4. Harris English (-15): It seemed unfathomable at the turn -- with English at 20 under, playing partner Bryson DeChambeau at 18 under and nobody else better than 16 under -- that there would eventually be a playoff and English would not be in it. But he hit both par-3 tee shots on the back nine in the water and shot 40 on that side. He said things were literally moving quickly. With a chance to secure his Ryder Cup spot, move into the top spot for the FedEx Cup Playoffs and possibly even become the frontrunner for PGA Tour Player of the Year, he faltered. English said officials told his pairing to speed play up , which threw off the rhythm he'd clearly found for the first 85% of the week.
"We were warned on the front nine, kind of got behind, felt like we were running pretty much the whole round and that really caught up," said English. "So you're having to run between the green and the tee, and it's hard for me to slow down. I rushed that shot. I really wasn't ready for it and bad result, but you've got to learn from it, you've got to pick up, and had a chance on 18 to get it done, but it is what it is." Grade: A
T8. Bryson DeChambeau (-12): For the second consecutive event, DeChambeau legitimately had a chance to win on the back nine but failed to break 40. At the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in June, he shot 44 on the back nine, and this one was not a lot better. DeChambeau bogeyed the last hole to shoot 41 and fall way out of even vying for the playoff over his last few holes. The whole thing is incredibly perplexing, especially considering how well he and English had been playing. They played the first 63 holes in 38 under and the last nine in 11 over. It's easy to just point to the tee-to-green play, but there has to be something at least affecting him mentally. DeChambeau has been a terrific closer over the course of his career, but he looked absolutely lost on Sunday in Memphis. Grade: A-