After adding a 66 to equally-impressive opening efforts of 68 and 66 on the iconic West Course at the Surrey venue, the 23-year-old Swede holds a two-shot cushion as he bids to make it back-to-back wins on the DP World Tour after landing a maiden victory in the Omega European Masters in Switzerland a fortnight ago in just his ninth start in the professional ranks.
It’s not done and dusted yet, though, in the fourth Rolex Series event of the season. After three glorious days, the weather is set to turn nasty for Sunday’s closing circuit and there’s also good reason why Aberg should be looking over his shoulder as his two closest challengers are a proven winner in Tommy Fleetwood and an in-form player in Connor Syme. Oh, and world No 3 Jon Rahm is also still in the hunt.
Chasing his breakthrough win on the circuit, Syme is in the final group for a second time in three weeks after finding himself alongside Matt Fitzpatrick, the 2022 US Open champion, in that aforementioned event in the Swiss Alps. The 28-year-old Scot finished joint-third on that occasion, having also recorded top-ten finishes either side of that eye-catching effort in the D+D Real Czech Masters and the Horizon Irish Open. “Yeah, yeah,” he replied to being asked if he was currently playing the best golf of his career.
After hardly putting a foot wrong for two days, Syme had been hit by a sucker punch at the end of his second round on Friday when he finished with a double-bogey 7 in a farcical finish in the fading light following an earlier fog delay. But, boy, had that been well and truly flushed out of his system when he returned to battle for round three. It started steadily before being transformed by a blistering back nine of 31, which was illuminated by an eagle from six feet at the 12th, as he carded a 65.
“Yeah, it was satisfying,” admitted the former Australian Amateur champion of his day’s work. “It was a very difficult finish last night with the big wait on 18 and to not have any holes to make up for it, I suppose, last night was definitely sore, but I am really pleased about how I bounced back today. I’m just trying to commit to everything the best I can and that was obviously rewarded by a great run of holes on the back nine today.”
He’ll have Aberg for company in the final group on this occasion and Fleetwood, too. “Yeh, I’m excited as that would be amazing,” he said, referring to Aberg. “Obviously he’s been doing so well and it will be great to play with him. I’ll be looking forward to that. I’ll have my own pressure and my own goals. That’s all I can control. Either way, I am going to need to play a brilliant round of golf tomorrow and that’s what I am going to try and do.”
As he bids to follow in the footsteps of Bernard Gallacher, Colin Montgomerie, Andrew Oldcorn and Scott Drummond by landing a Scottish success in the circuit’s flagship event, Syme is aiming to draw from being in the same position at Crans-sur-Sierre. “It was obviously a brilliant experience playing with Matt, who is a major winner and top ten in the world,” he said. “I definitely took a lot from that experience. I was nervous as it’s got a different feeling to it being in the last group and there were loads of people watching. But I’m looking forward to it again tomorrow. I’ll no doubt be nervous, but I’m excited for the challenge.”
Dad Stuart, who coaches him, will be watching from outside the ropes after he decided to stay down for the weekend instead of heading home. “He was supposed to be at my mum’s best friend’s daughter’s wedding (on Saturday), but he decided to stay down instead,” revealed Syme. “He made the decision when I was making a few birdies yesterday afternoon. I was expecting him to be heading home when I came off the course, but there he was.”
Is it going to take a trophy triumph on Sunday to help Stuart get back in the good books? “I don’t know about that,” said Syme, laughing. “They are just so excited that I am doing well and they are so supportive. He’s my coach as well as my dad and it’s nice having him here - absolutely. My mum said that if my dad could help me even a little bit by staying down, that would be fine with her. I actually didn’t make that decision, by the way, so I don’t feel any pressure at all (smiling).”
Continuing to show why European captain Luke Donald was so keen to have him on his team for the Ryder Cup in Rome in a fortnight’s time, Aberg signed for an eagle and six birdies in his latest impressive effort, which once again both polished in almost every aspect. “Oh, very, very high,” he replied to being asked where winning this event would have been on his bucket list growing up. “It is one of the biggest events on the DP World Tour, it's been like that for a long time. I've got memories of Alex (Noren) winning here when he hit an unbelievable shot into 18. It's really cool to see myself up there, I have to pinch myself in the arm every now and then, but it's quite cool.”
In an event that saw all 12 Ryder Cup team members make the cut, Fleetwood stepped up his title challenge with a 67 that contained an eagle and four birdies while Rahm, joint-second 12 months ago, is just four off the lead after his 66.