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Ludvig Aberg off to strong start at US Open with 66, seeks to become first rookie to win since 1913

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Seemingly unflappable and definitely in contention, Ludvig Aberg’s U.S. Open debut couldn’t have gone much better.

And if the 24-year-old Swede can maintain his ball-striking ability over the next 54 holes, he has a chance to become the first rookie to win the tournament in more than a century.

Aberg fought off some pre-round nerves Thursday and hit all 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens at the Pinehurst’s difficult No. 2 course to shoot 4-under 66, leaving the budding star one shot behind co-leaders Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay and in contention for his first major championship.

“I’ll absolutely take it,” Ludvig said. “I’m very, very pleased, obviously. I wouldn’t want to have to do it again."

Not since Francis Ouimet beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff in 1913 has a first-time participant won the U.S. Open.

Aberg’s success doesn’t come as a huge surprise. He finished second at the Masters last month and is ranked sixth in world.

Tony Finau said he'd never played with Aberg before, and walked away impressed.

“Yeah, he’s a strike show,” said Finau, who shot 67. “He’s far from a rookie. I mean, he’s not even your average first guy playing in a major championship. He’s been on some of the biggest stages already and shown he’s going to be a world-class player. It was a joy to watch.”

Aberg averaged 321 yards off the tee, outpacing the remainder of the field. But it was his accuracy that stood out in Round 1.

His focus coming into the day was to stay disciplined, and he did just that.

“There’s a lot of pins where you don’t really think about going for,” Aberg said. “My caddie and I had a lot of good conversations about certain areas that you try to hit it on. It’s difficult to be very, very precise with the numbers and those things. But try to get a gauge on where to hit it, where to miss it.”

He said that isn't always easy to do at Pinehurst, where the margin for error is thin.

“Especially when you have a wedge in your hand or something like that where normally you would go at the pin, but you can’t really do that here,” Aberg said. “It’s the U.S. Open, it’s supposed to be hard."

Aberg never made it look hard.

The player that Rory McIlroy has called golf's next big star played with a calm confidence, never getting rattled or intimidated by Pinehurst's fast, bowl-shaped greens.

Aberg, though, admitted he was little bit worried coming into the tournament.

“I’m always nervous when I’m playing tournament golf,” said Aberg, who has one win on the European Tour and one on the PGA Tour. “I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I think the day when I’m not nervous, it’s not a good sign. Obviously, a lot of butterflies this morning.”

Aberg seemed unfazed by failing to make the cut last month at the PGA Championship.

And his 66 puts him in position where he doesn’t have a chase a number and can focus on his own game — and a shot at a historic victory.

“We’re just trying to manage our way around the golf course,” Aberg said. “Obviously today I executed it very nicely, and that’s maybe not always going to be the case. Pinehurst is hard as it is. It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be tricky. All we try to do is just hit as many good shots as we can to the areas that we’re playing for, then see where that adds up.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

Steve Reed, The Associated Press