All 12 of Europe’s Ryder Cup players made the cut here. All eyes, however, are on one man. Far from appearing a leap of faith, it would now look ridiculous had Luke Donald not picked Ludvig Åberg as a wildcard for the meeting with the United States in Rome this month.
Eighteen holes stand between this outstanding youngster and the biggest victory of his rocket-fuelled career, at the PGA Championship. Åberg’s seamless adaptation to elite golf emphasises the sense he is, in Donald’s words, a generational talent. Swede dreams are made of this.
The 23-year-old will not have it all his own way. His lead after 54 holes is two, at 16 under par, from Tommy Fleetwood, a Ryder Cup teammate, and Connor Syme. The Scot posted an outstanding 65. Aaron Rai, Ryan Fox and Callum Shinkwin are 13 under.
A third-round front nine of 31 shots epitomised Åberg’s hunger. He led by two on the 13th tee, where he at least showed sings of fallibility by pulling a drive into trees. Just when he was staring at a double bogey, Åberg holed out from 36ft to keep his advantage over the field.
Åberg atoned for the error with a birdie at the 15th and the collection of another shot at the last. He has returned 68, 66 and 66 on his maiden visit to the West Course without apparently breaking sweat.
Jon Rahm’s 66 means he lurks at 12 under. The Masters champion has Thomas Detry for aggregate company. Rory McIlroy’s best round of the week, a 67, still leaves him 10 from the lead. The mind of McIlroy, a fully signed-up member of the Åberg fanclub, will already be on Rome.
Danny Willett’s achievement is playing the weekend of this tournament at all. The former Masters champion was six under par through 14 holes of his opening round when a tear of his left shoulder started to trigger serious pain. Willett played his last four in five over par. Back-to-back 71’s meant he made the cut, with a third round of 70 also seriously impressive given the circumstance.
Willett will consult a specialist on Monday, with surgery the likely outcome. Besides the tear, he has cysts around his labrum.
“There is no point in playing when you don’t feel like you can compete and you are in pain,” Willett said. “The amount of stuff I am having to do just to get through 18 holes is pretty extreme without anything progressing or getting better. It’s not great. I have managed it pretty well for about three years but the last eight months have been pretty funky.”
He estimates recovery time from any operation could be at least nine months. “I know what I’m capable of. I have won a lot of times and played well around the world. When I’m in good shape and have no niggles, I can compete. Unfortunately, when it is like this and you are constantly battling against stuff, it is hard to get back into that frame of mind. It is always in your head that something could just flare up or go. People don’t know that, they just look at your scores and think you are playing rubbish.”
Willett produces a rueful smile when asked when he last played without pain. “I haven’t done that for a long, long time,” he said. “I genuinely couldn’t tell you when that was. I have had weeks or months where everything has been OK but not six or nine months, so as to get some momentum. All the lads these days are so good, you have to put the hours in to compete with them. You know some young kid is doing double your amount of work and isn’t injured.”
See: L Åberg.