Ancer, 27, is close to an unassailable position at The Lakes following his incredible third-round 65, a round that sits among the best in the long history of the Open. At 13-under par, he has a teenage amateur, Japan’s Keita Nakajima, as his closest challenger at eight-under, with American Keegan Bradley and Australia’s veteran Marcus Fraser another shot back at seven-under.
The wind howled out of the south-east and the scoring average was above 73. Ancer paid no mind to it, rolling in birdie putts on five consecutive holes from the sixth to leapfrog into the lead. From there, he just kept going farther ahead, making birdies again at the 16th and 17th. A par at the last gave him a seven-under score that was two shots better than anyone in the field on the day.
He said it was arguably his best-ever round given the conditions. Other players – notably David Micheluzzi, who played alongside him – agreed that it was something special.
“"I mean, there are a couple of rounds that are like that maybe last year, I think I shot eight-under in the Quicken Loans, one of the PGA Tour events,'' he said. "I think that tied a course record on a tough golf course. But conditions-wise, I think it's up there for sure."
Ancer, 27, a United States PGA Tour player, is the world No. 96 player, and is on his way to play for his country the World Cup of Golf in Melbourne next week. A dual Mexican-US citizen, there has been some confusion about his nationality, but not in his mind. Born in Texas, he explained that this was merely because his parents had a trusted doctor living there. He spent his first 15 years in Mexico before going to college in the US.
He can certainly play, although there will be a concern that twice last year – at the Quicken Loan National outside Washington DC in June, and at the Dell Technologies Championship in Boston in September – he led into the final round. At the Quicken Loans he shot 72 and finished tied-fourth; at the Dell he shot 73 and finished tied-seventh.
But the miniscule Mexican (he’s just 171cm) believes those experiences will help him. “ I think the last times I've been in the lead going into a last round will help me tremendously for tomorrow. Obviously it's always nice to have a cushion, but you don't want to be thinking about that too much. You just want to go about your business and keep the same game plan for tomorrow that I've had every single day.''
Nakajima will play in the final group of an Open at just 18, the reigning Australian Amateur champion who also has an Aussie coach, Gareth Jones. He carded 70 today and his second shot to the par-five 14th, a towering ball that stopped with a couple of metres of the cup when his playing partners had chosen to lay-up, revealed some serious game.
Victorian Fraser, 40, is heading home to live after 16 years on the European Tour but he is not finished as a player. On the shorter Lakes course, he has a chance if he can go low tomorrow. “He (Ancer) is obviously playing well, but anything can happen,’’ he said.
Bradley, too, can swoop late, while Matt Kuchar (six-under) needs to find something incredible. But they all need Ancer to feel the heat. Last night, it didn’t look likely.