Charles Schwab Challenge

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BMW PGA Championship

Luke Donald’s loving it. With Ludvig Aberg leading, half his Ryder Cup team in contention at BMW PGA

September 16, 2023
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Ross Kinnaird

VIRGINIA WATER, England — If it weren’t so impressive, it would be ridiculous. Just over three months into a professional career that has already spawned one victory in his first nine events, Ludvig Aberg leads the biggest tournament on the DP World Tour, the BMW PGA Championship, with one round to play. That such a situation is already seen as not even a little surprising is testimony to how quickly the 23-year-old Swede has adapted to playing golf for money, although perhaps the biggest tribute he has so far been paid is the Ryder Cup debut he will make in two weeks.

Still, that is for the less immediate future. For now, Aberg has to see off a distinguished chasing pack that contains as many as five of his European Ryder Cup teammates—all in the top-12 and within six shots of the lead—he will join in Italy at the end of the month. That, indeed, is the latest test in a series of increasingly stern examinations of all aspects of the Aberg game.

The first question is obvious: “can you believe this?”

“Both yes and no,” said Aberg, whose third-round 66 has him 16 under and two shots clear of Scotland’s Conner Syme and one of those Ryder Cup teammates, World No. 14 Tommy Fleetwood. “If you asked me if I thought I could do it, I’d probably say ‘yes.’ But to do it in this kind of fashion is pretty cool. Playing all these events and having these experiences for the first time is cool. I wouldn’t say there have been any surprises. What I try to do is prepare for each tournament the best I can. Then, once I’m on the course, it is nice just to play. I’m hanging around with my caddie a lot and we’re having a lot of fun. My aim is to keep it that way.”

Indeed, a plan that involves the maintenance of what has already been proven to work, seems sound. But, even after all that he has already achieved, the final round of the biggest event on the DP World Tour is going to bring a new level of pressure to bear on what are still inexperienced shoulders. Which is not to say Aberg is not justifiably confident in his ability to make off with the $1.53 million first-place prize.

“My expectations haven’t exactly changed, even after winning [European Masters] in Switzerland,” he said. “But I know for sure I can do it. Even though I won a bit in college, professional golf is different. I told myself I could do it and that I was good enough to do it. So hopefully I’ll be able to do it again tomorrow.

“This event has always been very high on my bucket list. We’re talking about one of the biggest events on the DP World Tour. I have memories of watching Alex Noren win here a few years ago, when he hit an amazing shot on the last hole. It’s cool to see myself up there. I have to pinch myself in the arm every now and then.”

As for the closest and more eminent member of the pair in second place, Fleetwood is, on paper, the most dangerous of the contenders piled up behind Aberg. But the 32-year-old Englishman will not be chasing pressure-free. Despite playing a mountain of good to great golf this year, he has failed to win a tournament anywhere in 2023. Eight top-10s dot his record, the most heartbreaking loss coming at the Canadian Open, where Nick Taylor holed a 70-foot putt to win their sudden-death playoff.

“There hasn’t really been a common theme to say why I haven’t won this year,” said Fleetwood. “I’ve played well and keep putting myself in contention. I’m not sure what else to do. It’s better this way, more than not quite having it. I know what it is to be struggling and where near. This is better. I’m clearly doing a lot of good things. I just have to stay patient. It’s just golf. I might win three in a row, you never know.

“If you look at my final rounds, they have been good,” he continued. “I played really well in Atlanta. I did the same in Memphis. I played great in the Open apart from one hole. In Canada the winner holed a 70-foot putt to best me in a playoff. I’m playing a lot of great golf when I’m in contention. But one guy always wins and everyone else is disappointed. It’ll be my turn soon.”

Maybe. If Fleetwood is to prevail, he is going to have to see off more than the currently inspired leader. For one thing, Masters champion Jon Rahm lurks, just four strokes off the pace, while Tyrrell Hatton and Sepp Straka are another shot behind. The Spaniard shot 66 Saturday to reach 12 under par, a score that is actually four strokes more than the round with which he completed this event last year. So anything is possible.

Just ask Ludvig Aberg. Already he knows more than a thing or two about what is possible and what isn’t.