Thomas not giving up
Three years ago at the Africa Open Golf Challenge at East London Golf Club, Thomas Aiken found himself in the final pairing on day four and right in the hunt.
This year he’s slipped well down the leaderboard, and on Friday afternoon found himself in real danger of missing the cut. However, he showed the spirit of a champion down the closing stretch, and an eagle at the par-five 15th hole saw him sneak into the weekend’s play having made it on the number. He took full advantage on Saturday with a bogey-free round of six-under 66.
“It was interesting the first couple of days here, especially on day one,” Aiken recalled. “We had quite a stiff breeze which we had to contend with, and I ended up shooting two over which didn’t feel like a terribly bad score, but we came off the course for a while and the guys in the afternoon had slightly better weather.
“I came out yesterday and tried to make amends but unfortunately just couldn’t get the ball in the hole. On the back nine it felt like I was just fighting to make the weekend, but luckily I chipped in for eagle on 15 to make it.
“So that was the first bit of the job done. Then today we had some benign conditions, which was quite nice for a change. As we all know from past years the course is there for the taking when there is no wind. I hit the ball unbelievably well today and gave myself many chances, and, although I didn’t convert all of them, I did enough.”
The 29-year old Aiken was subjected to the worst of the conditions having played in the morning on Thursday, and he and the rest of the players on his side of the draw had to face winds of up to 70 km/h until play was suspended. It left the 2011 Open de Espana champion with it all to do in the fading light on Friday to make the weekend.
“I know from SA Amateurs I’ve played here that the wind can really blow and we’ve been very lucky the last four years not to see it. Then Thursday came and it was blowing. To give you an idea, on the third I hit a drive 195 yards down the middle of the fairway, and then I still had to hit an eight iron from 70 yards for my third, so it tells you how much wind there actually was. Unfortunately the balls were moving on the greens, otherwise most of the field would have played in it,” Aiken noted.
He added: “I pretty much knew the cut was going to be level, maybe one over. But there wasn’t enough wind yesterday for it to be over par so I banked on it being level. Then I made a bogey on 14 from pretty much nowhere which was quite upsetting because that meant I needed to make two birdies coming in on the last four holes. Fortunately, I hit it front edge on 15 and chipped it in so it was a nice bonus!”
Despite his scintillating round on Saturday, Aiken still finds himself eight strokes off the pace at six-under par, and with the leaders still to tee off, there is every chance that there will be more ground for him to make up by the time the day is out. However, with gale-force winds set to return, the Johannesburg-born professional is reluctant to completely rule out a chance of victory this week.
“It’s quite tough to re-focus your goals for the weekend when you aren’t in the hunt. But the wind is forecast to blow again tomorrow - maybe even stronger than Thursday if the forecast is right, although it was supposed to rain yesterday and it didn’t!” he laughed.
“But that’s the thing with coastal courses – if the leaders don’t get too far away today and it pumps tomorrow, then you never know. You can have a blinder on the last day and maybe be in with a shout.”