[PHOTO: Stuart Franklin]

As the last tournament played before the automatic spots on Europe’s Ryder Cup team were determined, the Omega European Masters figured to be intriguing. It ultimately became more thrilling than expected for the European captain, Luke Donald.

Despite surrendering his lead entering the final round in Switzerland, Matt Fitzpatrick secured an automatic berth from the World Points list with a tie for third, and Scotland’s Robert McIntyre got the other automatic spot, from the European Points, though he hardly finished strong, tying for 55th.

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The satisfaction of those two, however, was far surpassed by the man who won. Ludvig Aberg, the 23-year-old Swede who turned professional in June after a stellar college career at Texas Tech University, made the strongest case possible for a captain’s pick when he birdied four of his final five holes to close with a 64 and win his first DP World Tour title.

Aberg already had Donald’s attention after posting a T-4 in the John Deere Classic (on the strength of a closing 63) in July and a T-4 Czech Masters last week. Now, it would seem the former world No.1 amateur is all but a lock to be named among the captain’s choices when Donald announces his team tonight, Australian time.

Donald has six wildcard picks to identify that will add to the six who are automatics: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and McIntyre from the European Points and Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton and Fitzpatrick from the World Points.

How remarkable would Aberg’s ascension to playing in the Ryder Cup in Italy be? As noted on X (formerly Twitter) by @justinray, he would become the first player in history to make a team without ever having played in a major championship.

Fitzpatrick, of course, is already a major champion, having won the 2022 US Open at The Country Club, and he was going to be on the European team regardless of this week’s result. Trailing Tommy Fleetwood by only 3.82 points, and with Fleetwood not in the European Masters field (while being considered a wildcard lock), Fitzpatrick needed a T-7 or better to overtake his fellow Englishman. Though that was accomplished, Fitzpatrick was disappointed to shoot the worst score of any of Sunday’s contenders, 69, and tie for third with Scot Robert Syme at 16-under, three behind Aberg and one back of Swede Alexander Bjork.

Alex Fitzpatrick, Matt’s younger brother, shot 67 and tied for fifth.

MacIntyre, 27, is a two-time DP World winner who narrowly missed making his first Ryder Cup team in 2021. The left-hander struggled in late 2022 and the early portion of this season, falling out of the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But he got stronger in the northern summer and nearly pulled off a milestone victory in the Scottish Open, only to be overtaken late by McIlroy. MacIntyre tied for fourth in last week’s Czech Masters.