Aiken starts well in SA Open
Johannesburg - For Thomas Aiken, winning the SA Open is more important than the huge riches he could claim from the Race to Dubai World Championship and the South African has started well in his quest for the national title at Serengeti Golf Estate.
Despite a breakthrough year on the European Tour, where he is currently ranked 20th on the Race to Dubai money-list, Aiken has never won a co-sanctioned event in South Africa and the 28-year-old is obviously passionate about rectifying that.
Aiken is an endearing character who wears his heart on his sleeve and it was clear the SA Open means more to him than a share of the $7 500 000 Race to Dubai Bonus Pool that is divided between the leading 15 players on the money-list at the conclusion of the Dubai World Championship in the United Arab Emirates from December 8-11.
"It's more important to win this than to finish in the top 15 of the Race to Dubai, I'd rather get my name on this trophy," Aiken said after shooting a 69 in Friday's second round that lifted him to seven-under-par overall and right up amongst the leaders.
"There's so much history to this event. But golf is a strange sport, it's not like tennis where the points you earn determine your ranking. In golf it's all about money-lists.
"Maybe they should look at something different for the SA Open. It's one of the oldest golf tournaments in the world, but it has one of the smaller purses, which doesn't seem right. How I do in the Dubai World Championship will determine how I finish the season, because a 10th-place finish there will be worth as much money as a win here," Aiken said.
The Johannesburg-based golfer has a quirky sense of humour and he revealed that the aeroplanes heading for the nearby O.R. Tambo International Airport had given him valuable tips as they made their final approaches before landing or just after take-off.
"You watch the aeroplanes and one lands in one direction and the next minute a plane takes off in the same direction! That tells you the wind direction and there were about four different winds in nine holes!
"The wind didn't blow that hard, but it changed direction a lot. In Johannesburg, we're not used to that, the wind kinda funnels into this area," Aiken said.
The Spanish Open champion had five birdies and just two dropped shots in conditions most golfers felt were tougher than on the first day.
Aiken started on the 10th hole and his first bogey came on the 16th when his approach shot went slightly too far left, on to a bank, from where it ran into the water. His other bogey was on the par-three fifth, thanks to a poor tee shot.
Aiken had collected five birdies already as he came around the turn and reached the fifth hole, so his scorecard may suggest he ran out of steam. While the seven-time Sunshine Tour winner has slogged through an exhausting schedule recently, he said he was content, however, with his finish.
"Yesterday I was solid and today I hit the ball really well. The greens were tricky to read, but you expect that around here.
"My last few holes [on the front nine] were also tricky with the wind coming off the left and the last three holes would actually make great finishing holes.
"I haven't played that well the last couple of weeks because I've played nine weeks in a row. Travelling to the United States and Europe and also heading east takes its toll.
"I'm not quite there with my swing, but I'm just looking to hit the middle of the greens and make the putt, just stay in touch with the leaders," Aiken said.