Mature Aiken wants to win Africa Open
Thomas Aiken started 2013 as if he means to make up for a quiet 2012, and he could be the man to beat at this week’s Africa Open Golf Challenge at East London Golf Club.
The man with seven Sunshine Tour titles and a victory on the European Tour finished in a share of sixth at last week’s Joburg Open with successive closing rounds of six-under-par 66 to announce that his game is good enough to win a second title on the international stage very soon.
Aiken, who turns 30 in July, has history at the Africa Open: In 2010, he was second to the man who would become Masters champion in 2011, Charl Schwartzel.
While Schwartzel was compiling a six-under-par closing round of 67 – something he needed to draw a single shot clear of Aiken, and clearly had to fight for every single stroke on his card, Aiken was not taking too many risks down the stretch after a double-bogey six on the fifth hole had unsettled his push for victory.
Although he made three birdies on the closing nine on the 12th, 14th and 15th, nowhere was the safety-first strategy more apparent than on the short 292-metre (319-metre) driveable 16th.
Aiken is easily able to reach the green on that from the tee, but he chose an iron for accuracy rather than seeing if he could force an eagle out of the hole from which he’d already extracted two birdies during the week.
Even a third birdie for the week there would have given him a shot at a play-off with Schwartzel, and the eagle would have forced a response from Schwartzel which could have brought forth an error.
Instead, Aiken settled for second. Or did he make a strategic decision which has turned him into the golfer he is now?
“The wind was down off the left so 16 was very reachable,” he recalled, “but the flag was tucked next to the right hand bunker. I could have hit driver down there and given myself a good birdie opportunity, but if you hit it anywhere right of the flag, you’re pretty much dead and playing for par.
“I hit the ball left to right, so with the left to right wind, to keep it left of the flag with bushes just left of the green, you’ve got to hit a perfect golf shot. I fancied my chances hitting a four-iron down the fairway and a lob wedge to the green. Unfortunately, I just didn’t hit a good enough lob wedge.
“I always believe in one thing – when you make mistakes, learn from them. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t made mistakes,” he added.
Since that year, he’s finished in a share of 14th twice – behind 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen in each instance – and his start to 2013 suggests he may be ready to get to the very summit of the leaderboard by the end of the weekend.
“Obviously it was disappointing not winning then, but I took that experience and ended up winning one in Spain later that year,” he said. “The Africa Open is a great event and it would be a fantastic one to win.”