Ludvig Aberg lives up to star billing with impressive opening round at Wentworth

Ludvig Aberg continued to justify his billing as golf’s next superstar as he outscored two of the world’s best players to make an impressive start to the BMW PGA Championship.

A day after Rory McIlroy declared himself firmly on board the Aberg “bandwagon”, Aberg partnered the world number two and FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland at Wentworth and outscored them both.

The 23-year-old Swede, who only turned professional in June but was given a Ryder Cup wild card hours after winning the final qualifying event, carded a four-under-par 68 despite a double bogey on the 17th, while Hovland returned a 69 and McIlroy struggled to a level-par 72.

Aberg made five consecutive birdies from the 11th and also birdied the last after running up a seven on the 17th, where he pulled his drive out of bounds.

“The 17th was a little bit stupid but other than that I felt like I hit the ball great and gave myself a few chances, especially on the back nine where it’s a little bit more scoreable,” Aberg said.

“Overall, I’m really happy with the way I played. I was very nervous this morning, it would have been weird if I wasn’t, and there were a lot more people following me round than usual.

“But playing with Rory and Viktor was a lot of fun. To be walking down the fairway with them and having conversations has been pretty cool. I am proud of the way I handled that, playing good golf with so much going on and I am trying to keep that up.”

Viktor Hovland
Viktor Hovland on the 12th hole during day one of the 2023 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Hovland was full of praise for his Ryder Cup team-mate, echoing Justin Rose’s description of the former world number one amateur as a “stud”.

“The way he’s played the last couple of months, he has not been a pro very long but he certainly doesn’t look scared of the moment,” the world number four said.

“I think this week is a great experience for him but I think he’s ready regardless.

“He’s a stud. When you have the tools, it is easy to trust it. He’s obviously very mature and you just step up and do it. He’s super talented and he is going to be around a long time. He’s going to do great things.”

Denmark’s Marcus Helligkilde held the clubhouse lead on eight under par after carding 10 birdies and two bogeys in a 64, with England’s Matt Fitzpatrick and Scotland’s Richie Ramsay sharing second on six under.

Matt Fitzpatrick
England’s Matt Fitzpatrick on the 17th green during day one of the 2023 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Fitzpatrick, who announced his engagement to girlfriend Katherine Gaal last week, said: “It’s a great start to the week. I feel like I just played really solid overall and did everything well.

“It’s nice to play well in front of the home crowd, I’m focused on playing well this week and I know that when Sunday night comes I can look towards the Ryder Cup and work on what I need to do to get ready for that.”

Former winner Tyrrell Hatton carded a 68 despite finding the water with his approach to the 18th, while defending champion Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood both shot 69.

“I got off to a great start, three under through seven, and a couple of bogeys around the turn wasn’t great, but I think the course is playing a little bit more difficult this year,” Lowry said.

“There’s a lot more rough and it’s a little bit firmer so three under is not a bad score.”

Former winner Danny Willett looked set to challenge the lead when he covered his first 12 holes in six under par, only for the 2019 champion to aggravate an ongoing shoulder injury after hitting his tee shot on the 15th.

That led to a double bogey and the former Masters champion dropped three more shots on the last two holes and had to settle for a one-under-par 71.

“I hit balls for half an hour on Tuesday, half an hour yesterday and then the warm-up today and actually in fairness I felt pretty strong,” Willett said. “But when it goes it goes.”

Willett, who pulled out of last week’s Irish Open after an opening 76, will visit a surgeon in Manchester on Monday to determine the best course of action.