With Rookie of the Year honors still up for grabs entering the PGA’s final event for 2023, the Eric Cole vs. Ludvig Aberg battle no doubt has multiple layers in what it means for each player.
For Cole, it would be the cherry-on-top outcome for a 35-year-old rookie who became a weekly juggernaut after playing more than 35 times this season and crashing the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings. That level of transformation is astonishing for a player who landed as an elite talent when diving into most statistical categories in 2023, even if a victory never quite came to fruition.
Aberg, on the other hand, took the imagination of golf purists and extrapolated those thoughts into visions of grandeur. The 24-year-old, a former No. 1 amateur in the world, has been a rocket ship of success, posting seven consecutive top-14 finishes worldwide, including a win at the Omega European Masters.
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While it might feel like a battle of David vs. Goliath when you look at their long-term projections 12 months ago, Cole is every bit deserving of the final group on Sunday at the RSM Classic in Georgia. His 5-foot-9 stature could still be too much to overcome Aberg’s 6-3 build. However, I don’t think it’s outlandish to say that despite both ranking outside the top 45 in the world, each man possesses the qualities of a golfer who could be one of the best 15 players on the PGA Tour.
We know that ranking is just around the corner for Aberg, who may have top-ranked potential before long, but Cole can cement his status as a weekly threat with a win on Sunday since we all know he will be back in action for nearly every tournament, win or lose in Round 4.
If you haven’t already, you can find me on Twitter (@TeeOffSports). There, I provide a link to my pre-tournament model, a powerful and interactive data spreadsheet that allows user input to create custom golf rankings. That sheet is released every Monday, so be sure to check it out and construct your own numbers from my database of information.
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RSM Classic Sunday Odds
Denny McCarthy Top-5 +275 (William Hill)
We have seen Aberg and Cole pull away from most of the chasers. Names like Mackenzie Hughes and Tyler Duncan still find themselves a few shots off the lead and ahead of the rest of the pack. However, it is one of those interesting boards that would indicate any slippage from the two leaders could result in a trickle-down effect and open things up for anyone 13-under or better.
I highly considered giving McCarthy a look at 125/1 in the outright market because my model didn’t love the chances for Hughes and Duncan if we did get issues at the very top. It ultimately decided against that path because Aberg and Cole demonstrated the exact profiles you would want to see of an eventual champion of this event. Still, if we think the board is more open than meets the eye past the two favorites, there could be a chance for a name like McCarthy to land in a top-five and not undergo the dreaded dead heat rules.
Through two rounds at Sea Island, my model projected McCarthy as the second-place performer if he had received his baseline short-game expectation over his output. His negative-0.62 shots putting landed over two strokes higher than what would have been anticipated from him at this point of the proceedings, making all the quality work he has done with the driver something that has been for naught.
I don’t know if working all the way up the board and into first will be in the cards because of his sub-one percent win equity mark, but there are a lot of paths for him to slide into second or third if he can finally flip the putter back around.
Russell Henley Top-20 +350 (William Hill)
Oh, Russ. What could have been if you didn’t lose 4.87 strokes putting on Thursday? That return was 2.37 shots worse than the next name on the list for the day.
It is one of those spots where Henley’s early implosion may inevitably make it impossible for him to overcome and creep into the top 20. Nonetheless, my model gave him an average finish of 26th place when running it repeatedly for the final round.
The argument to be made there is that finishing around that spot would still result in a loss if we needed him to post a mark inside the top 20, but I considered this a number grab over all else for a price that should have been under +300.
The American will likely need to shoot five-under or lower if he wants any chance to backdoor a finish, but it is not as if we haven’t gotten that during each Sea Island round this week.