St. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Ludvig Aberg ran off four birdies and an eagle over a five-hole stretch on the back nine Saturday, not so much to pull away but just to keep pace. He had a 9-under 61 for a one-shot lead on an extraordinary day of low scoring in the RSM Classic.
Mackenzie Hughes narrowly missed a putt for 59. Eric Cole flirted briefly with a sub-60 round at Sea Island. A half-dozen players had at least a share of the lead at some point.
Aberg, the rising Swedish star who only turned pro in June after finishing at Texas Tech, wound up ahead of the pack as he goes for his first PGA Tour victory.
“Stayed patient and luckily it paid off today,” Aberg said. “You get a lot of wedges on the back nine, and then 15’s a reachable par 5. I felt like I was striking the ball well. I was hitting the fairways, apart from 14, But other than that, I felt I was striking the ball well and kind of took advantage of a little bit easier conditions today.”
He was at 20-under 192, one shot ahead of Cole (61) and two clear of Hughes (60).
Aberg began his big run with an 8-foot birdie putt on the 13th. He chipped in from 75 feet on the next hole, made a 15-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th, holed another 8-footer on the 16th and capped it off with a tee shot that plopped down a foot from the hole at the par-3 17th.
Everyone else was doing the same.
As for players who say they aren’t aware of a chance to shoot 59, Hughes is not one of them.
“When I eagled 15, I thought if I can run the table, that would be 59,” he said. “I was kind of licking my chops down 18. But unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
He sure gave it a run, following the eagle with a pair of birdie putts from the 12-foot range and having a good look just outside 15 feet on the 18th. Hughes thought the putt would break slightly back toward the left, but it stayed right and he removed his cap in disbelief.
“I’m thrilled,” said Hughes, who also shot 60 in the first round of the Travelers Championship in 2020. “But you can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed. You don’t get the opportunity to shoot 59 very often. You have a putt like that, you want to bury it more than anything.”
Right behind him was Cole, chipping away and making it look easy. Nothing was simple about the par-5 15th, where his tee shot hopped out of a bunker and stayed near the edge. He hit it low and hard and watched it run onto the green, inches from the cup and settle just over 3 feet for an eagle that allowed him to regain the lead.
Aberg had the final say Saturday.
It could be quite the battle on Sunday at Sea Island.
Cole is regarded a frontrunner for PGA Tour rookie of the year for his steady play, reaching the second stage of the FedEx Cup playoffs and already assured of being in all the $20 million signature events next year. A victory would seal that honor.
Aberg winning might give him the nod, particularly given his short season. He was the No. 1 player in PGA Tour University, giving him a tour card. He already has three top 10s, along with his first pro win at the European Masters, which secured his spot on the Ryder Cup team for Europe. Now he’s trying to close out the PGA Tour season with a win.
Tyler Duncan shot 62 and was three behind at 17-under 195. Sam Ryder (65) was five back. Aberg has yet to drop a shot over 54 holes.
The RSM Classic is the final event of the PGA Tour season, with the top 125 securing full cards for 2024. Ryan Moore came in at No. 128 — that after a tie for fifth in the Bermuda Championship last week — and shot 62. He was seven shots behind, probably too far behind to catch Aberg, but in good shape to keep his card.
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