European Tour title No. 5 for SA golfers

9 May 2011

A holiday does one good, they say. South African golfer Thomas Aiken would certainly agree. Following a seven-week break, he returned to action in the Spanish Open last week and promptly secured his first European Tour title.

Aiken’s win on Sunday was the fifth by a South African on the European Tour this season, following Ernie Els’s win in the South African Open Championship, Louis Oosthuizen claiming the Africa Open, and Charl Schwartzel triumphing in the Joburg Open and the Masters.

Dale Hayes previously won the Spanish Open in 1971 and 1979, and Charl Schwartzel lifted the title in 2007. Aiken’s victory was the 99th by a South African on the European Tour.

Tribute to Seve

After claiming his maiden win, Aiken paid tribute to Seve Ballesteros, the tournament winner in 1981, 1985 and 1995, by dedicating his victory to the charistmatic Spaniard, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 54.

“He was everything to the game of golf and I am happy to have won for him. Any of us would have won for him,” said Aiken.

During his seven-week break, Aiken went four weeks without lifting a club. One wouldn’t have guessed that when he opened his challenge with a four-under-par 68, which left him two shots behind first round leader Scott Jamieson.

A second successive 68 left Aiken with a one-shot lead at the halfway mark on eight-under 136, one shot clear of Pablo Larrazabal and two clear of Jamieson and Alvaro Velasco.

Two-shot lead

The third round proved to be very testing for the field and a level-par 72 was enough to see Aiken increase his lead to two shots heading into the final round.

He built his advantage up to as many as four shots on the inward nine before finishing with a two-shot win on 10-under-par 278 after a two-under 70 over the final 18 holes.

Aiken’s victory secured him a place in the lucrative and prestigious 2011 WGC – HSBC Champions tournament in November at the Sheshan Golf Club in Shanghai. More importantly, it gained him exemption on the European Tour for two years.

Then, of course, there was the winner’s cheque of €333 330 (approximately R3.2-million), the biggest prize of Aiken’s career so far.

‘I’m ecstatic’

Reflecting on his first European Tour title, Aiken told Sapa: “I don’t think it’s quite hit home yet, I’ve been waiting for this for a long, long time and I’ve been knocking on the door. I’m ecstatic.”

It took him 104 European Tour events to claim a title, a long wait, but not when compared to Tim Clark waiting 206 events before winning on the PGA Tour.

The Spanish Open was the ninth win of Aiken’s career.

Seven of his wins have come on South Africa’s Sunshine Tour, including three in 2004. His first professional victory came on the PGA EuroPro Tour in 2003 in the Stoke by Nayland Classic.

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