Not often do Rory McIlroy or Viktor Hovland play second fiddle in their groups, but they did Thursday as Ludvig Aberg stole the spotlight in the morning featured group in the first round of the 2023 BMW PGA Championship. Firing a 4-under 68 that included six back-nine birdies, the young Swede raced up the leaderboard and past his European counterparts in the DP World Tour’s flagship event.
“It was great,” said Aberg. “A little bit more people than I am used to following me around, but it was really fun playing with those two guys. The level of golf they can do is pretty amazing, and for me to watch that is pretty cool. I was kind of walking around and pinching myself in the arm around these fairways. I really enjoyed it, and I am proud of the way I handled it today.”
Aberg arrived at Wentworth Club as the belle of the ball after winning his first DP World Tour tournament his last time out and warranting a pick from European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald just a day later. Fresh off a scouting trip to Marco Simone Golf & Country Club that included a four-ball victory with Hovland over Tommy Fleetwood and McIlroy, Aberg and his sizzling summer stretch seeped into Surrey.
Even par across his first 10 holes after trading an early birdie for a bogey at the turn, the 23-year-old remained composed alongside the two household names as rows of spectators lined every fairway. His patience would be rewarded, as would the gallery’s, when he caught fire in the middle portion of his back nine, carding five straight birdies to get to 5 under in the blink of an eye.
“I hit some nice iron shots,” said Aberg. “I feel like this golf course is pretty straightforward if you put the ball in front of you off the tee you get a lot of mid irons and luckily today, I hit a few nice ones and made a few putts as well.”
A round in the low 60s appeared certain, but an ill-advised tee shot on the par-5 17th led to a double bogey. This hiccup wouldn’t stop Aberg, though. One last par breaker on the closing hole put the finishing touches on a seven-birdie day and secured him a spot inside the top 10 by the time he signed his scorecard.
“This is what I have been wanting to do for such a long time, and for me to actually be here, to play in these events that I have been watching for such a long time is pretty cool,” said Aberg. “I try to embrace it, I try to have fun with it and take it for what it is.”
Whether Aberg goes on to to win the BMW PGA Championship doesn’t really matter. Yes, it would make for an incredible story and heighten the excitement (if possible) ahead of his Ryder Cup debut. It may even push the Europeans to the betting favorites, but the floodgates of expectations have already bursted open.
The kid is a gamer. Some have known since before his days at Texas Tech. Others are beginning to understand it in real time. Peers continue to gush about his game. Everyone wants a seat on the hype train, and they are filling up faster than a Taylor Swift concert.
“I was on the bandwagon before,” said McIlroy. “Certainly at the front of it now.”