‘Machine’-like Aberg seizes lead in 1st U.S. Open

  • ESPN News Services

Jun 14, 2024, 08:43 PM ET

The U.S. Open is a new experience for Ludvig Aberg, not that anyone would notice the way his machine-like game gave him the 36-hole lead Friday.

Pinehurst No. 2 is not.

Aberg was a 19-year-old from Sweden about to start his college career at Texas Tech when he came to this Donald Ross gem for the 2019 U.S. Amateur, losing in the second round.

“I remember it was one of my first experiences coming over and playing a really hard golf course in America,” Aberg said. “And I was like, ‘Is this what golf in America is like?’ Luckily it’s not like this every week. But I just remember it being very hard.”

It remains every bit of that, and Aberg showed again that he was very much up to the task. He didn’t miss a fairway until the eighth hole of the second round. The sensational Swede is not immune to mistakes, but he has avoided big blunders and big numbers.

He methodically worked his way to a 1-under 69 in extreme heat to take a 1-shot lead into a weekend that features Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Cantlay and Rory McIlroy in the mix and Scottie Scheffler thankful just to make the cut and get another crack at Pinehurst.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever played with him. The guy is like a machine from what I saw,” Tony Finau said after a 69 left him 2 shots behind. “I obviously am focused on what I’m doing and playing my game, but he hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens.

“He sure makes it look pretty easy.”

Aberg wasn’t flawless. He missed two fairways and had two bogeys, one from the sandy landscape left of the eighth fairway, another when his approach on the 16th rolled through the green and into a back bunker.

He was at 5-under 135 and led by 1 shot over DeChambeau (69), Cantlay (71) and Thomas Detry of Belgium (67).

Pinehurst No. 2 is tough enough without a heat index that pushed toward 100 degrees at the peak of the afternoon and with just enough wind to cause doubt.

That’s just how the 24-year-old Swede likes it.

“It’s not an easy golf course to play,” Aberg said. “But I felt like we stayed very disciplined, stayed very patient and tried to hit it to our targets all the time. We said beforehand, ‘See how many good shots we can hit today and see where that ends up.'”

He wound up with another chance on a big stage. Just over a year after he graduated from Texas Tech, Aberg already is No. 6 in the world, has won on both sides of the Atlantic, played in a Ryder Cup and was runner-up in the Masters.

DeChambeau relied more on his putter than his power and will be in the final group with Aberg. DeChambeau has played 10 rounds in the majors this season and been inside the top six of the leaderboard at the end of a round nine times, the most of any player.

He was all over the place Friday — three times following a birdie with a bogey, saving plenty of pars with putts in the 5-foot range and finishing on a high note with a wedge into tap-in range for birdie on the 18th.

“All in all, was very happy with how I stayed patient, gave myself good opportunities when they mattered, and I made a lot of clutch putts coming in,” he said.

Cantlay and Matthieu Pavon tried to keep pace with Aberg. Cantlay was flawless through seven holes until he went over the back of rock-hard eighth green, went back over the other side, took 2 shots to reach the green and had to make a 12-footer for double bogey.

He dropped back again with tee shots into the scruffy dunes with native grasses, leading to bogey on the 16th and keeping him from a birdie chance on the closing hole.

“I think this golf course is going to play very challenging over the weekend, especially with the forecast that we have. It’s inevitable there’s going to be some mistakes made, but that’s just part of playing a U.S. Open,” Cantlay said. “The line is very fine around here. Just a yard one way or the other can be a dramatic difference.”

The temperature is expected to get even hotter, the course even tougher. In the previous three U.S. Opens at Pinehurst No. 2, a total of four players finished under par. There were 15 players under par going into the weekend.

That included McIlroy, who chipped in for par on the 17th hole and got away with a balky putter for a round of 72 that left him 2 shots out of the lead. Former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama had the best score of the second round at 66 and was 3 behind.

PGA champion Xander Schauffele started with two straight bogeys, had a double bogey and still managed a 69 to get within 4 shots.

All of them are chasing Aberg. No one has won the U.S. Open in his first try since 20-year-old Francis Ouimet in 1913 at The Country Club. Aberg is hardly a newcomer to this kind of stage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.