Aiken holds his lead on a dark day
Overnight leader Thomas Aiken will go into the final round of the Open de España with a two shot lead.
Overnight leader Thomas Aiken hung in on a dark day in Spain inevitably overshadowed by the death of Seve Ballesteros to double his lead going into the final round of the Open de España.
Aiken shot a modest, level par 72 but his 8-under total on a day when low scores were as rare as hen’s teeth, it was good enough to put him two clear of the four-strong group in second place.
It included Spanish young gun Pablo Larrazabal, who shot a 1-over 73, Dane Anders Hansen, who came up with a day’s best 69 and European Tour rookies Scott Jamieson and Romain Wattel of France who like Aiken, both shot 72s.
Flags were at half-mast, players wore black ribbons and a minute’s silence was held in mid-afternoon in memory of Ballesteros..
The minute’s silence came just after Olazábal had completed his round with a 75 and according to Colin Montgomerie (73), ‘Olly, ” his player partner and the man who succeeded him as Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain, “was in floods of tears most of the day. He has lost an older brother almost.”
Larrazábal, was dressed in funereal black as he continued his bid to put his name on a trophy that Ballesteros last lifted in 1995 when he became the only player in European Tour history to record 50 victories.
But it was a tough day in every respect, the wind and difficult pin placings restricting sub-par scores with nobody able to better Hansen’s 69.
To his credit, the ever improving Aiken kept his composure, offsetting his two bogies with a pair of birdies, and then, when it really mattered, making a crucial 20-foot putt for par at 17 before salvaging a five at the last after slicing his approach into the corporate entertaining stand.
Aiken, chasing a first win in Europe, credited Ballesteros with being one of his inspirations in his life, even though he was only five years old when the Spanish golfing great won the last of his five majors at The Open in 1988.
“Seve was an inspiration to me, so charismatic, such an emotional player with true passion,” Aiken told Reuters.
“I got to thinking about that when I stopped at the eighth. “His death, though, puts things into perspective – it’s just a game.”
Besides Ballesteros, there were other inspirational figures in Aiken’s charge this week.
The 27-year-old, said he had been motivated to go for victory by fellow South Africans Louis Oosthuizen, the reigning Open champion, and Charl Schwartzel, who recently won the 2011 Masters.
“Louis was in a similar position to me and then suddenly he won in Andalucia last year before going on to become British Open champion.
“I’ve grown up with him and what he did has made us all work harder.”
A blustery wind made club selection difficult but Aiken doubled his overnight lead with several crucial long putts.
Hansen, twice the European PGA champion at Wentworth and with three wins to his credit, could be his biggest threat on Sunday.
The Dane’s best-of-the day 69 gave a good hint of that.
Olazábal and Miguel Angel Jiménez – vice-captain to Ballesteros at Valderrama in 1997 – tearfully embraced at the start of the day and again after the minute’s silence.
They have been trying to win the Open de España since 1983 and their wait looks certain to go on. They are both three over.
Olazábal said: “I just played the most difficult round of my life. It was very tough to make it to the first tee and hit the first drive.
“I don’t think there will ever be another player like him. There can be others that are very good, but none will have his charisma.”
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