Thomas surprises himself in East London

Thomas Aiken had not played for a fortnight when he teed up for round one of the Africa Open at East London Golf Club, yet he surprised even himself on Thursday when he carded 64 and took the early lead.

“I wasn’t really expecting that after two weeks without touching a club. It was a great morning this morning – early start, and the scoring conditions were good. It was out there for the taking and luckily I hit some really good shots and made putts,” he said.

The 28-year-old took control in the calm conditions and made his way through the back nine in just 31 strokes to finish one shot clear of Retief Goosen and Jaco Ahlers after the first 18 of the €1-million tournament.

“I really enjoyed the round today; this is not the longest course, but it bites if you go skew. Anything off the line on this course is pretty much a reload off the tee, which makes it a thinking man’s course. There are a lot of risk-and-reward holes – a couple of driveable par fours and tricky par threes – and I think that a lot of new courses lack that challenge,” Aiken added.

The trio of Aiken, Goosen and Swede Peter Hedblom were the first three-ball to head out onto the course and marked the start of both the 2012 Sunshine Tour and Race to Dubai.

Retief Goosen hit the first ball, yet Aiken was the strongest starter – he eagled the 11th and made a quick move to two-under.

After a calming run of four pars Aiken was set to go and penciled in birdies from 16 to 18, marking a blazing back stretch of just 31 blows.

He made two relaxed pars after turning, but was clearly on song and for the second time made eagle, this time at the third. His second eagle played out in similar style to his first – he hit a great two-iron and reaped the rewards. “I have had that two-iron for seven years – and it is the only club from my old bag that conforms with groove regulations. I find it very versatile and it is one of my favourite clubs. I had 230 yards to the hole on the third, and a similar yardage on 11. Managed to get the yardage right and I hit two perfect shots,” he said.

After making further birdies at the fifth and sixth, Aiken played out with two pars before signing for nine-under-par. After opening with a bogey, Retief Goosen found his rhythm and carded a five-birdie run from the 11th to the 15th. He made further birdies at the 18th, first, third and sixth before signing for 65. “The course is playing as easily as you will see it right now. I have been able to practice since November and I’m feeling very good at the moment,” he said.

Jaco Ahlers carded a flawless 65, in which he too, blazed through the back stretch, making five birdies and turning in 31. His second loop was a quieter affair, yet he managed birdies at the third, fourth and seventh to close out the round in an early share of second.

Aiken could not have started the tournament in better fashion, but was not keen to rush into things as the week progressed. “I’m just going to take it shot-by-shot and see what happens at the end of the week,” he said.

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