Not only did Ludvig Aberg shoot down Matt Fitzpatrick at the Omega European Masters, but also any lingering questions about why Luke Donald would possibly pick such a rookie, just four months out of college, for the upcoming Ryder Cup in Rome.
If timing is everything in golf, the 23-year-old’s win in just his ninth pro event was perfectly timed as the European captain got going complete the six wildcards that he will announce at 2pm on Monday.
In a dramatic final round in Switzerland, Fitzpatrick earned the right to an automatic berth in the Italian capital, just as Robert MacIntyre became the first Scot in nine years to appear in the biennial dust-up.
Still, all the buzz was around Abergthe Swede who on Monday will surely become the most inexperienced golfer ever to be selected to play in the sport’s most intense arenas.
Can he handle the heat? That was the primary argument against his election, but there were others. In the past few days, former DP World Tour pro Mark Roe expressed his concerns about the lack of experience and the dangers of being blinded by the light of talent. Eddie Pepperell vocalized his “concerns about what it will mean” the qualification system required a debutant with only three European circuit tournaments in his closet be selected before the grinding loyalists.
All valid points, no doubt, but when it came down to it, the former amateur world No. 1 dismissed those fears as nothing more than absurd. Aberg is almost a certainty to be named by Anders in his announcement at 14 on Monday and no one can moan if and when the prodigy joins the already qualified Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Macintyre, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton and Fitzpatrick.
“I don’t even know where to start, it’s quite a surreal feeling to be honest,” Aberg said after a final day 64 for a 19-under total and a check for £430,000. “Obviously, I’m super, super happy. I’ve always had the belief that I’ve been able to do it, but to actually do it is cool.
“I figured a win would put me in a good position [for the Ryder Cup] but honestly I’ve done a pretty good job of not thinking too much about it – and I certainly did today.”
He was three behind Fitzpatrick, the world No. 8 and the 2022 US Open champion, with five to go in Crans-sur-Sierre. In the Alps, Aberg had a terrifying mountain to climb.
Big players – or even potential big players – can quickly turn huge slopes into footing, however, and with four birdies in a row from the 14th, the Swede with a semi-American accent forged his emphatic spell at the University of Texas – sauntered past a stumbling Fitzpatrick for a maiden title that no one watching him closely would take long to reach his trophy cabinet.
“To be able to collect four rounds here in the mountains, where it’s so beautiful, it’s a dream come true,” Aberg said after beating compatriot Alexander Bjork (66) by one stroke. It’s proof that I’m doing good things. Winning a tournament is a lot of fun, doing it so quickly [as a professional]I’m over the moon.”
Fitzpatrick was clearly shocked by his failure to close out his third European Masters crown to equal Seve Ballesteros’ record of 15th, 16th and 18th. At one point there was the tantalizing opportunity for Matt and his younger brother, Alex, to go head-to-head down the stretch, but the latter couldn’t pick up a birdie on the back nine.
Still, Alex’s 67 didn’t have a bogey, and his tie for fifth is another big step in the right direction for the 24-year-old.
That will be a comfort to Fitzpatrick Sr. and as for the Ryder Cup – although he was really a shoo-in anyway, so it was low – his tie for third with Scotland’s Conor Syme was enough to unseat a guy. Englishman Tommy Fleetwood in the top three on the World Points List, who have also automatically earned their place with Marco Simone. Not that Fleetwood should be anxious at all.
Sources have indicated that Shane Lowry, Justin Rose and Sepp Straka have been informed to pack their bags as well, meaning that with Aberg now booked in, there should only be one place left.
Adrian Meronk won the Italian Open at Marco Simone this year and Nicolai Højgaard won the same tournament at the same venue in 2020 (with MacIntyre picking up that trophy in 2021). Meronk has been considered a high probability for a layout that suits his excellent driving. But Højgaard is someone else with all those qualities, and there were growing whispers on Sunday that Anders could take the 22-year-old’s side.
MacIntyre is simply delighted to be booked. He is not a fan of Crans and struggled to a 55th place at three-under. He was there to leapfrog, with five players – including Meronk – with an opportunity to pass him on the European points list, but he hung on.
“The last few weeks have been hell,” he said. “I’m so excited. It’s been a tough qualifying campaign but I’m happy with the way I’ve handled the challenge. I’ve worked hard to play in the Ryder Cup but now it’s important that we go on and win it .”