Aiken’s 71 keeps options open

Thomas Aiken shot level-par 71 at Muirfield and led the South African charge during round one of the 142nd Open Championship. At tied-21st he’s still very much in the running.

 

The 30-year-old has two top-10s at The Open and on Thursday continued his solid run at the oldest major after fighting his way back from a bogey at the first.

 

Two European Tour wins stand testimony to Aiken’s ability to keep a cool head, and he did just that during the first round at Muirfield, making birdie at the fifth and seventh to reach the turn at one-under-par.

 

The back nine was certainly the tougher of the two loops and Aiken felt the lash of links golf, making bogey fives at the 11th and 14th to slip back to one-over.

 

But Aiken wasn’t done with the course and took on the par-three 16th, nailing the putt for birdie and making his way to the clubhouse on level par.

 

Tim Clark finished on one-over-par after recovering well from a rocky front nine. The 2012 PGA Championship winner birdied the 15th and 17th on his way to a tie for 27th place.

 

"I played well," he said. "Unfortunately my score didn't reflect quite how well I played. A couple of the greens I didn't judge the speeds right, especially the front nine."

 

The 16th hole held no good fortune for Ernie Els, who took three whacks to get out of a greenside bunker and had to settle for a triple-bogey six.

 

The Open Champion played well during the first round, but struggled to get close enough to the cup for birdies. The Big Easy’s overall game looked solid and his opening 74 doesn’t reflect how many long-range putts slid by and how close he was to scoring well.

 

Branden Grace also shot three-over-par 74 and joined Els in a share of 59th. The runner-up at last week’s Scottish Open will look for more on Friday.

 

Sharing 78th on four-over-par were Richard Sterne and Charl Schwartzel, while dark horse George Coetzee will be disappointed with his share of 93rd on five-over.

 

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