Luke Donald's entire European side went to Marco Simone Golf Club on Monday for a pre-Ryder Cup team practice session, ahead of all 12 competing in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth; Watch both events live this month on Sky Sports Golf
Wednesday 13 September 2023 16:44, UK
Rory McIlroy claims he has moved to the front of the Ludvig Åberg "bandwagon" after being beaten by the rising star in Team Europe's trip to Rome ahead of the Ryder Cup.
Åberg was named as one of six captain's picks by Luke Donald for the biennial contest, live from September 29-October 1 on Sky Sports, with the Swede winning the Omega European Masters in just his ninth start as a professional.
Europe's entire Ryder Cup side joined Donald and his vice-captains for a team trip to Marco Simone Golf Club on Monday, ahead of all 12 players traveling to the UK to play in the DP World Tour's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Åberg revealed in his pre-tournament press conference that he teamed up with Viktor Hovland on Monday to claim a 3&2 victory in best-ball over Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy, who led the praise for the Swede's potential impact in the European team.
"Probably exceeded them [expectations]," McIlroy admitted about Åberg. "Everyone talks about what a great driver of the golf ball, which he is. The ball striking is incredible. I was really impressed with his wedge play and how he can sort of control his trajectory with shorter clubs. I was on the bandwagon before, but certainly at the front of it now."
Åberg, who will play alongside Hovland and McIlroy for the first two rounds of his BMW PGA Championship debut, was delighted to have the opportunity to play with the Northern Irishman for the first time.
"His [McIlroy's] resumé speaks for itself and what he's done and did for the game is quite incredible," Åberg said. "To watch that first-hand was pretty cool. I'm sure he's going to do well [in the Ryder Cup]."
Shane Lowry went out in a fourball with Justin Rose, Robert MacIntyre and Sepp Straka on Monday, with Lowry and Straka since paired together again during the first two days at Wentworth.
Jon Rahm enjoyed a practice round alongside Tyrrell Hatton, having played together in the Friday fourballs during the 2021 contest, with Matt Fitzpatrick and Nicolai Hojgaard completing that group.
Rahm will go out with Hojgaard and Hatton again for the first two rounds of the BMW PGA Championship, while Fitzpatrick has been put in an all-British group with Rose and MacIntyre.
Course conditions in Rome were discussed heavily ahead of the BMW PGA Championship, with McIlroy among those impressed with the layout but wary of the challenges Marco Simone GC could offer players.
"In terms of just the condition of the course, I don't know if I've ever seen better fairways," McIlroy said. "I think fairways are so pure to hit off and the greens are in great shape, and everything. It's been a hot summer over there and the course is in fantastic shape."
McIlroy also highlighted the importance of accuracy off the tee, telling reporters: "You miss fairways then you're going to struggle to get to the greens. I think there's some holes, there's a couple short par-fours where if you're hitting driver off the tee and you miss fairways, you should be punished.
"There's a couple longer holes that maybe the rough is not quite as severe and you can at least get like a seven or eight-iron on it and advance it quite a bit down the fairway."
Rahm echoed McIlroy's comments, adding: "It's penal. It's difficult. You have to put the ball in the fairway. It's not the longest golf course, right, so it's going to make you think a little bit if they keep it that way."
Hovland is among the European players to have previously played the Ryder Cup venue during an DS Automobiles Italian Open, although he admitted he is relishing the chance to tackle the layout in match-play format.
"I still don't think it's an amazing stroke-play event, or golf course, but for match play, I think it's going to be super exciting because there's a good mix of the holes that are easy that you can make birdies and you can make eagles.
"There's also some extremely difficult holes where if you make a par, you could win the hole. So, I think that makes for a really good Ryder Cup, because you're not going to see too many halved holes.
"I feel like there's going to be a lot of movement and I think that makes for an exciting Ryder Cup,. The shots required, as well, they are very demanding. You have to drive it well off the tee or else it's going to be very, very difficult.
"Some of the pin placements, too, they allow for iron shots to get really, really close if you hit a good shot, and if you miss it, you're going to have a very difficult up-and-down. I just think there's a lot that can happen and nothing is over until it's over."
Watch the BMW PGA Championship throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage begins on Thursday with Featured Groups from 8.30am ahead of full coverage from midday on Sky Sports Golf.
Live coverage from the opening day of the Ryder Cup begins on Friday September 29 from 6am on Sky Sports Golf, while live programming begins on Monday September 25. Stream the PGA Tour, DP Tour, Ryder Cup and more with NOW.