Aiken: Mixed bag but still in hunt

Thomas Aiken returned to South Africa this week for the 102nd South African Open Championship at Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate, and, like his year, his tournament has been something of a mixed bag thus far.

A disappointing opening round of 73 was followed by a spectacular 66 in the second round on Friday. The man from Johannesburg believes it just about sums up the season he’s had, especially with the flat blade.

It’s been a quiet year. Last year his performances were outstanding, and nine top-10 finishes – with a win at the Open de Espana – meant he finished 22nd in the final Race to Dubai standings.

This year Aiken has struggled to recapture that same form, and has managed just two top-10s. One of these was an impressive showing in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes, and the cheque for €180,000 he received there for his share of seventh resurrected what has otherwise been a mediocre season.

“It was a bit like the last couple of months with my game – I’ve been hitting the ball great,” he said of his start at the SA Open. “Yesterday I hit the ball really nicely and hit 15 out of 18 greens and just couldn’t buy a putt. I missed a few short ones.

“Today started the same way on the 10th. I hit it to about a foot and a half and missed that one for birdie. But I finally got it going and made a couple of putts. I hit 18 out of 18 greens and one par-five in two, so I can’t complain about the ball-striking. I shot 66 with 31 putts,” Aiken said.

The 29 year-old was drawn with championship-leader Henrik Stenson for the first two rounds, and he marvelled at the Swede’s distance off the tee.

“It was interesting and also very good to play with Henrik. He’s hitting it about 50 yards past us! He’s a really nice oke and loves South Africa. And I know him quite well, so that was nice,” Aiken said.

Despite such a sparkling performance on Friday, Aiken lies seven shots adrift of Stenson. However, he still believes he has a chance of winning his national Open, and is thrilled to be playing in front of his home fans.

“My ball-striking has been really solid and if I can just get the ball rolling a bit better then anything can happen on the weekend.

“It’s great to be home – I haven’t been home since February. It’s nice to play in the SA open and I see there are some decent crowds. Hopefully we can have a lot going into the weekend,” he said.

Having accumulated nearly €470,000 on the European Tour in 2012, Aiken lies 53rd in the Race to Dubai and his place in next week’s final is all but secured. Looking at these statistics, few would consider it to be a poor year.

But with the kind of results he enjoyed in 2011, Aiken would have expected more, and will be looking ahead to next week’s final to finish the season off in style. Today Aiken entertained with the kind of golf that he churned out so regularly in 2011, and he will be desperately hoping that it is the catalyst for great things to come.

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