Thomas stalking Danie in Merit race

SA Open Championship: Round 3When the season-ending 104th South African Open got underway at Ekurhuleni’s Glendower Golf Club, a total of seven players (who had met the eligibility criterion of seven events or more) were still in the running to claim the prestigious honour of winning the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit for 2014.

Three rounds later, it’s been mathematically whittled down to three. Realistically though, we’re left with two. The large prize fund – and the winner’s cheque in excess of R2.3 million – bring with them a lot of variables in terms of the potential outcome in the standings. But, as is so often the case, the cream tends to rise to the top, and the two top dogs Danie van Tonder and Thomas Aiken – 17 pairings apart on Sunday – will find themselves locked in a straight shootout.

Van Tonder began the week with a R220,000 advantage over Aiken, and with both men seemingly out of contention in terms of winning the tournament, it brings some fascinating (and complicated!) permutations into play.

A dreadful 78 from Van Tonder on Thursday looked to be a devastating blow to his chances, with Aiken safe in the knowledge that a finish in sole position of 14th or better would suffice in the likely event of the leader missing the cut. However, an extraordinary rally from Van Tonder on day two saw him close out a 68 with three successive birdies; thus making it on the cut line at two-over par.

The steady Aiken reached the halfway mark at three under, good enough for a share of 13th place. As it stood, it wouldn’t be enough though.

Moving day was a useful one for Van Tonder, who fired a 71 to climb up to a share of 49th place, which, if maintained, would yield a cheque for around R66,000. Aiken went one better on Saturday with a 70, but remained in a share of 13th, and the R219,000 cheque for such a finish would still see him fall short.

It thus means that should Van Tonder stay where he is today, Aiken would need to finish in sole 10th place or better. Were Aiken’s position to go unchanged, Van Tonder could finish at the back of the field and still win the Order of Merit.

Given Charl Schwartzel‘s massive lead, a tournament win is unlikely for Aiken. But should he manage to get himself up to second or third place by the end of the day, Van Tonder’s goose would be cooked regardless of his score. A top-five finish for Aiken would also see Van Tonder needing to finish seventh to stay ahead.

“I’m actually not even looking at the leaderboard,” commented Aiken on Saturday evening. “There’s no point sitting out there trying to make calculations. What will be will be.”

Trevor Fisher Jnr is the only other man in with a theoretical shout. But, given that he is currently down in a share of 44th place, and is looking to overturn a R2 million deficit, it appears safe to write off his chances. Hennie Otto was the only other contender from the original seven to have made the weekend, but the R2,3 million deficit meant that Van Tonder making the cut essentially ended his hopes of coming out on top.


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