Greater Noida: South Africa’s Thomas Aiken ensured his maiden trip to India would be an unforgettable one as he shrugged off the final day pressure to close with a five-under-par 67 and win the €1.8 million (approximately US$2.3 million) Avantha Masters on Sunday.
Aiken’s winning total of 23-under-par 265 was enough to make him the second successive South African to win the Avantha Masters title after Jbe Kruger in 2012 and also earned him 20 world ranking points, which is the highest offered in any tournament in Asia this week.
Four-time Asian Tour winner Gaganjeet Bhullar of India surmounted a late charge with a 64 but was not enough to pip Aiken for the title and had to settle for second place at the Jaypee Greens Golf Course.
China’s Liang Wen-chong closed with a 69 to take third place while Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat also signed off with a 69 to take fourth place on 271 at the Avantha Masters which is tri-sanctioned by the Asian Tour, European Tour and Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI).
Overnight leader Aiken, who started the day with a three-shot advantage thanks to a spectacular 62 on Saturday, continued his charge by making birdies on holes two and five before turning in 34.
He had to fend off the combined challenges of Bhullar and Liang by making further birdies on the 12 and 15 holes.
It was however, a closing birdie on the last hole that finally ensured the Avantha Masters trophy would remain with a South African for the second straight year.
“Some of the other guys played fantastic golf today. Liang really had it going on the front nine, and then Gaganjeet played some unbelievable golf on the back nine,” said Aiken.
“He didn’t give me any breathing space, so hats off to him. I had to keep concentrating up until the second last shot. Then I could finally relax and enjoy the moment,” added Aiken.
Starting the day in tied-eighth, Bhullar knew he had to overturn a five-shot deficit before harbouring any hopes of winning his fifth Asian Tour title.
The 24-year-old got off strongly when three birdies and an eagle got him to five-under after five holes.
Bhullar dropped a shot on the eighth hole but came back strongly again with birdies on holes 10, 14, 15 and 17 for an outward 32.
“I played aggressively and I needed to make a good charge to have a chance. I made only one mistake on eighth, where I missed the fairways. But that happens,” said Bhullar.
After missing out on his fifth Asian Tour title, the talented Indian hopes that it will not be long before he finds his way back into the winner’s circle again.
“Basically no one remembers the second place guy after sometime. It is only the winner who stays in the history books. Being second or 40th does not matter. I wanted to try for a win and my caddie kept motivating me. For instance my friends, fans and some may remember I was second here, but Thomas Aiken’s name will be there in the books,” said Bhullar.
Starting his round three shots back of Aiken, Liang birdied three of his opening five holes before a double-bogey six on the sixth hole set him back.
The Chinese, who earned the distinction of being the first mainland Chinese to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2007, stamped his mark again when he responded quickly by posting the event’s first hole-in-one of the par-three seventh.
“To card a double-bogey on the sixth and make a comeback with a hole-in-one on the next hole showed lots of character,” said Liang
“I was two back at that point of time but unfortunately, I could not make as many putts as I would want to. But that’s golf. You win some and you lose some. I tried my best and that’s all I can ever ask for,” added the Chinese.
Liang celebrated his last Asian Tour win in India in 2008 by winning the Indian Open where he also established a new low 18-hole score by carding a 12-under-par 60 in the opening round.
While he could savour the winning feeling again after faltering home with two bogeys against two birdies in his outward-nine, the Chinese believes his performance bodes well for his season ahead.
“I had a great week in India. Although I did not win, I learnt a lot about myself especially today. This is only my second event of the year and with such a great result, I’m sure it can only get better,” said Liang.
Starting the day four shots back of Aiken, Kiradech stumbled with a bogey on his second hole but got straight back into the mix with four successive birdies starting from the fourth hole.
“I was only two behind after 10 but both Liang and Aiken were also at the top of their game. I tried to stay very close but it didn’t really work out the way I wanted,” said Kiradech.
Kiradech could not maintain his impressive run as he marked his card with another bogey and a birdie in his outward-nine and had to eventually settle for a 69.
“Aiken’s a very good player. He hit a lot of solid shots and I’m honoured that I could play alongside him. But I’m really happy with the way I’ve played and I feel more comfortable. I believe I can finish the season in a high position,” added Kiradech.
Leading scores after round 4 of the Avantha Masters being played at the par 72, 7347 Yards Jaypee Greens course (a- denotes amateur):
265 - Thomas AIKEN (RSA) 67-69-62-67.
268 - Gaganjeet BHULLAR (IND) 68-69-67-64.
270 - LIANG Wen-chong (CHN) 66-66-69-69.
271 - Kiradech APHIBARNRAT (THA) 68-68-66-69.
272 - BAEK Seuk-hyun (KOR) 68-68-70-66.
273 - David HORSEY (ENG) 72-68-66-67, Scott HEND (AUS) 67-68-68-70, David DRYSDALE (SCO) 67-67-68-71.
274 - Himmat RAI (IND) 70-71-68-65, Victor DUBUISSON (FRA) 69-68-70-67, Julien QUESNE (FRA) 69-66-69-70, Tommy FLEETWOOD (ENG) 69-65-69-71.
277 - Jeev Milkha SINGH (IND) 69-68-69-71
280 - Thongchai JAIDEE (THA) 70-71-70-69