Rising stars Smith, Im and Ancer chase Masters history

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


Three golfers who raised their game playing for the Internationals in last year's Presidents Cup suddenly find themselves battling for a Masters title.

Mexico's Abraham Ancer, Australia's Cameron Smith and South Korean Im Sung-jae were among the leaders when darkness halted Friday's second round at Augusta National.

Ancer and Smith shared the lead with top-ranked Dustin Johnson and third-ranked Justin Thomas on nine-under par 135, with Im another stroke adrift.

Im and Ancer could become the first debut players to win the Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 while Smith could become only the second Aussie to don the green jacket after Adam Scott in 2013.

Ancer, Im and Smith all played on the Internationals team that lost 16-14 at Melbourne to a US side starring player-captain Tiger Woods, the defending Masters champion.

"It was a great week," Smith said. "We all become best of mates that week and it's good to see them guys right up there. Abe finished five or 10 minutes before me, so we were giving each other fisties on the back there. It was good."

Ancer and Im each led the global squad with 3-1-1 records with Smith on 1-1-1.

"That experience in Melbourne definitely prepared me, 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.

"That whole week was big for me and my career. I felt like it's helped me tremendously."

Im came to Augusta for the first time confidently.

"I really feel like I'm prepared for this week," he said. "This course suited my style. I just approached the tournament with confidence."

Smith answered a bogey at the 14th with an eagle at the par-5 15th and three closing birdies in a row.

"It wasn't crazy stuff. It was just really solid stuff and the putts dropped in," Smith said. "It could have got away from me. It's almost your tournament and done and dusted. Just dug deep and the reward was there at the end."

His reward will be playing the weekend at Augusta National, where .

"There's a lot of boys still out there trying to work some magic," Smith said. "I feel like I've been there enough where I can have a good crack at it."

Ancer began his second round with a bogey but collected himself from there with three birdies on the front and back nines, two in the last four holes.

"Obviously feeling great," he said. "I kept telling myself that sometimes the best rounds start with a bogey.

"You have to be extremely patient and I've been able to do that these two rounds. I've been able to scramble really well."

Ancer played 27 holes at Augusta National on November 4, the first day he saw the course.

"I didn't want to get here for the first time ever this week and be really excited," Ancer said. "The course is incredible.

"All those shots seen on TV and growing up, now I'm like, 'Wow, those were some amazing shots.'"