Aiken takes three-shot lead into the final day of Avantha Masters
Greater NOIDA, March 16: Thomas Aiken, who chose golf ahead of cricket and tennis, because it offered better scenery, could enjoy it even more on Sunday as he grabbed a three-shot lead going into the final day of the Avantha Masters at the Jaypee Greens Resort. His three-shot lead in a tournament that has been very tight thus, indicated that the lovely Avantha Masters could once again be headed to South Africa for the second year running, taking over from Jbe Kruger, who missed the cut on Friday.
Aiken, a competent fast bowler at the provincial level, was also proficient in tennis in his mid-teens. He finally opted for golf and is now beginning to reap the benefits of the sport, besides enjoying the sights it brings with it.
Firing eight birdies and an eagle in a stunning 10-under round, bettered only by the 61 on first day Chinnarat Phadungsil, Aiken is now 18-under and three clear of the overnight co-leader Liang Wen-chong ((69). Kiradech Aphibarnrat, playing two groups ahead of Aiken also had a 30 for front nine like the South African, but he managed only a 36 with one eagle and two bogeys on back nine, while Aiken shot 32. Kiradech, whose only win on Asian Tour, came at SAIL Open in 2011, is now tied third with David Drysdale (68) at 14-under while big-hitting Scott Hend (68) was tied fifth with Joonas Granberg (69) and Tommy Fleetwood (69) at 13-under.
Gaganjeet Bhullar moved up to tied eighth as the top Indian following a flawless five-under 67 that brought him to 12-under for the week, six behind Aiken. Bhullar, who had 17 greens admitted his round was better today but felt he need to putt better to further move up.
Jeev Milkha Singh with six birdies and three bogeys shot 69 and was tied 17th at 10-under.
Anirban Lahiri (70) and Rahil Gangjee (72) were tied 23rd at nine-under, while Jyoti Randhawa (68) showed glimpses of his old form and moved to eight-under in tied 32nd.
Abhijit Chadha was unable to conjure up the same magic as first two days and dropped four shots in last five holes and ended with a 74 that saw him drop to tied 37th, alongside Himmat Rai (68), Ashok Kumar (70) at seven-under. Manav Jaini (69) was tied 45th at six-under.
Aiken’s iron play was spellbinding as he moved from four behind to three in front. “I concentrated very hard to play one shot at a time and it seemed to work,” said Aiken. “It just shows what can happen. I got off to a great start – holing a pitch shot on the second for eagle always helps – and from then on I just stuck to my game plan. All in all I’m very pleased with the way I played.” Having also birdied the first, Aiken’s slice of fortune on the second saw him three under through two holes.
Some sensational approach play allowed him to birdie the fifth, seventh, eighth, tenth and 11th without having to make a putt of more than ten feet, and after being briefly caught by Kiradech Aphibarnrat, the 29 year old responded with a two-putt birdie at the long 15th and a 12 foot gain at the next.
Aiken, whose only European Tour win was the 2011 Open de Espana, said, “I’ve been playing very well the last four months and just haven’t converted opportunities.” This season his best has been tied sixth at the Joburg Open.
“Fortunately this week I’ve converted a lot of the opportunities that I’ve had; the majority of them have gone in from inside ten feet and that’s what makes the difference from a scoring point of view.”
India’s top man this week thus far, Bhullar said, “It was much better than previous two days. I have been hitting the ball consistently well, and even finding a lot of greens. I had a lot of greens in regulation. It was 17 yesterday and again 17 today. I missed only one green in regulation today. But the putts have not fallen. However, it was better today as compared to the first two days.”
On the takeaways from the second round, Bhullar added, “But the positive I am taking from today’s round is that I had no bogeys. Anytime you shoot four-five birdies and no bogeys it feels good. Today on the 8th, I had a superb 40-50 footer for birdie and then on the par-5 15th, I was sitting on six-foot eagle, but I just missed it closely. I used a 3-Wood and 3-Iron and landed within six feet. I had earlier birdied the par-5 12th.”
Jeev had mixed feelings as he said, “I am getting the birdies alright, but I am also dropping too many bogeys. In three days I have dropped eight bogeys and that’s just too much. I had as many as six birdies today, but I gave back three of them. On the first day seven birdies and I dropped three bogeys. So, that tells you the story. Maybe, I am getting very aggressive on this course. But that’s also what is required because the course if there for the taking. Every now and then someone is going really deep and low.”
Overnight joint-leader Liang is closest to Aiken following a 69. Liang was left him 15 under – the Chinese star’s efforts undone by two bogeys on the front nine after missing putts from inside two feet.
Thailand’s Aphibarnrat, who briefly held a share of the lead when he splashed in from a bunker for an eagle at the long 12th, and Scotland’s David Drysdale are tied for third on 14 under after both dropped shots late in the day.
Aphibarnrat had also raced to the turn in 30 with six birdies in eight holes, but bogeyed the tenth after missing a three footer for par.