With a 30-footer for birdie, Thomas Aiken needed just one hole to win a playoff Sunday against Oliver Fisher to win the Africa Open at East London (South Africa) GC.
Aiken’s final-round 67 and Fisher’s final-round 69 had put them in the sudden-death playoff at 20 under, a shot ahead of John Hahn and David Horsey and two ahead of Richard Bland, Darren Fichardt and Jaco van Zyl.
Here are 5 Things to know from the Africa Open:
• • •
1. AIKEN TAKES CAKE: Using a page common to the playbook of “Team Reed” on the PGA Tour – Patrick Reed and wife Justine – Thomas Aiken captured his victory Sunday with wife Kate on the bag. While Justine Reed has plenty of experience as caddie for her husband, Kate Aiken was making her debut.
“We might have to do it again!” Thomas Aiken told the European Tour while also relishing another first: winning on home soil.
“I’ve been waiting for this for quite some time,” Aiken said. “I’ve won a couple of times overseas, but there is nothing like winning in front of a home crowd. . . . The South African fans have been unbelievable throughout my whole career so it’s nice to finally get one for you guys.”
In his previous two European Tour events, Aiken had finished fifth among his six top-20 finishes this season. He’s 18th in Race to Dubai points.
• • •
2. FADING AWAY: Rhys Davies looked to have given a boost to getting his European Tour career back on track when he opened with a 7-under 64 to share lead with Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard. However, the Welshman faded over the next three days to finish well down the field.
The former East Tennessee State player is struggling to get his European Tour card back after failing to regain it at last year’s European Tour Q-School. Davies finished 182nd on last year’s European money list and will spend most of his time on this year’s European Challenge Tour.
Anyone who watched Davies play amateur golf wouldn’t have predicted the 28-year-old would be struggling at this point in his career.
Davies defeated Pablo Martin to win the 2003 British Boys’ Championship. He played in two Walker Cup teams (2005-07). He won twice on the 2009 European Challenge Tour and then backed that up when he took down Louis Oosthuizen to win the 2010 Trophee Hassan II, his first-and-only European Tour win.
His debut victory seemed to suggest Davies was on the cusp of fulfilling his potential. He was selected to act as Colin Montgomerie’s cart driver during the 2010 Ryder Cup, when the European captain identified Davies as a future mainstay of the European team.
Instead, Davies career has stalled. He was second-to-last man into the Africa Open and isn’t likely to get many more European Tour starts. He’s going to have to use this year’s Challenge Tour to get his career back on track.
• • •
3. LONG WAY TO GO: Soren Hansen is another who’s trying to move back up the European pecking order. Hansen is a two-time European Tour winner. He played in the 2008 Ryder Cup but has seen his career nosedive in recent years.
The Dane got into the field courtesy of his position in the top 40 of the European Tour’s career money list. He has won nearly €9 million (approx. $12 million) during his career. Most of that came in 2007 when he won just under €1.7 million (approx. $2.3 million).
However, Hansen’s career went into a slump in 2010 when he was fined over $1.2 million in Denmark for tax evasion. Hansen claimed he was a resident of Monaco, but the Danish courts rejected that claim.
Hansen has slumped to 377th in the world from a career high of 39th. He’s been as low as 754th so he’s heading in the right direction. Unfortunately the Africa Open didn’t help his world status. He missed the cut with scores of 70 and 73.
• • •
4. SEVEN DOWN, ONE TO GO: The Africa Open marked the seventh South African tournament on this year’s European Tour schedule. The Tshwane Open in two weeks’ time will make it eight South African events among the 50 events listed on the 2014. The nation has taken over from Spain as the most popular European Tour destination.
• • •
5. WHERE ARE THE STARS? To say the Africa Open attracted a weak field is a bit of an understatement. The world rankings don’t lie.
France’s Gregory Bourdy was the highest ranked player in the field at 107th. South African’s Darren Fichardt and Thomas Aiken were next best at 112th and 113th respectively. They didn’t have much company from other top-200 players. There were only another eight players inside the world 200.
• • •
– European Tour contributed