Sweden's Aberg makes most of Classic invite in Dubai

Young Swede sizzles on a cold day for a share of the lead at the Emirates Golf Club


Leslie Wilson Jr

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Ludvig Aberg of Sweden tees off on the 8th hole during his first round on Day Two of the Dubai Desert Classic. — AP
Ludvig Aberg of Sweden tees off on the 8th hole during his first round on Day Two of the Dubai Desert Classic. — AP

Published: Fri 27 Jan 2023, 9:21 PM

When the organisers of the DP World Tour handed out one of its three elite invitations to Ludvig Aberg for the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, little did they know that it would spark one of the most sensational performances by the young Swede.

As a way of paying them back for their generosity, Aberg, the world’s leading amateur golfer, delivered a golfing master class in challenging conditions at the Emirates Golf Club, to share the first-round honors with English veteran Ian Poulter.

The unlikely duo were on seven-under 72 when light showers and fading light brought play to a premature end on Friday.

Auberg, who scaled the summit of the World Amateur Golf Rankings in April 2021, displayed a golfing maturity far beyond his years, knocking in as many as eight birdies despite starting the day with a bogey.

Meanwhile, Thursday starter and reigning world No 1 Rory McIlroy was in a four-way tie for third place on six-under together with Spaniard Angel Hidalgo, South Africa’s Louis de Jager, and American Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters Champion.

However, the undeniable star of the day on a rain-hit Majlis Course was Aberg

To put into context just how good the Swede was one only has to look at joint-leader Poulter who is more than twice his age, has close to 20 years more experience, and is already the recipient of 17 professional victories.

Aberg and Poulter may be on opposite sides of the golfing spectrum but there was so much commonality between the two in terms of the attitude and skills that they brought to the Emirates Golf Club on Friday.

Despite not having the best of starts to the day when he need three shots with his putter, which perhaps was as chilled as the weather, to clear the first, Aberg turned the heater on immediately to fire in back-to-back birdies at the second and third.

Two more birdie putts on the seven and eighth would ensure that the talented Swede, who was the top-ranked player on the PGA Tour University points standings at the end of 2022, make the turn at four-under 32.

Still, on fire he would begin the back nine with a confidence-filled birdie-putt on the 10th, a feat he repeated on the 13th.

Proving that he was just as hot with his irons as he was with his putter, Aberg scorched off the 16th tee to comfortably set up a birdie, his sixth of the round. Not willing to relent, he picked up another birdie on the 16th thanks to a well-struck 16-foot putt that disappeared into the hole.

Still hungry for more birdies, Aberg came agonisingly close on the final two holes of the day but would return to the clubhouse a very happy young man.

While Aberg failed in his birdie attempts in the closing holes, Patrick Reed fired an eagle on the last that catapulted him into joint third.

“I'm obviously really happy with the way I played,” he said. “I felt like last week wasn't really a reflection of all the hard work I've been doing in the off-season. It was more getting rusty on playing tournament golf.

“So to come out this week and feel like I was able to put everything together and to have my mind right on game planning and course management was definitely a plus.

“I've never seen this place before, and coming in and seeing it for the first time and knowing and kind of realising that it's more of a positional golf course rather than just hit it wherever, I feel like I had full control of the golf ball and made a couple of putts,.” Reed said.

He also had kind words to offer the ground staff who have worked tirelessly to get the rain-hit course ready for play.

“They have done an unbelievable job,” he said. “We're in the desert and we don't expect it to rain, and with how much it has rained and for them to get the golf course to be not just playable but to get it where it's in really good shape is amazing.

“It shows how great they are at their craft.”

Reed himself demonstrated how good he was at his craft with the sensational 18th-hole eagle.

“The greens are a little bit more receptive,” he remarked. “They are rolling nice, and you know, the premium is just putting the ball in the fairway. Put the ball in the fairway you're always going to have a clean lie and good looks.

But if you start hitting it off-line, that's how you're going to start getting into trouble around here.”

While the tournament lost six hours on the first day on Thursday to the unseasonal rains, Friday morning's resumption of the first round was further delayed by two hours as ground staff worked hammer and tongs to get the course ready for play.

Which they did.

Scores (after round 1)

65: Ludvig Aberg (AM) SWE; Ian Poulter ENG -7

66: Angel Hidalgo ESP; Louis De Jager RSA; Rory McIlroy NIR; Patrick Reed USA

66: Richard Bland ENG;

67: Victor Perez FRA; Thomas Pieters BEL; Adri Arnaus ESP; Oliver Bekker RSA;

68: Hennie Du Plessis RSA; Matthew Jordan ENG; Oliver Wilson ENG; Daniel Gavins ENG; Tommy Fleetwood ENG; Matt Wallace ENG 68 68; Connor Syme SCO; Jeunghun Wang KOR

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