Aiken heads home charge
Home favourites Thomas Aiken and Retief Goosen set the early pace as the European Tour season got underway at the Africa Open.
By Mark Kendall - Twitter: @SkySportsMK
Last Updated: 05/01/12 5:41pm
Home favourites Thomas Aiken and Retief Goosen set the early pace as the new European Tour season got underway at the Africa Open in East London on Thursday.
Aiken shot a superb nine-under-par 64 to end the first round with a one-shot lead over the field, with two-time major winner champion Goosen leading the chasing pack alongside compatriot Jaco Ahlers.
Two more South Africans, Michael Du Toit and Dean O'Riley, share fourth with Phillip Price of Wales on seven-under, while Englishmen Danny Willett and Richard Bland are part of a six-man group one stroke further back at six-under.
Defending champion Louis Oosthuizen came with a back-nine surge to boost his hopes of a successful defence and finished the day on four-under after a double-bogey had undermined a promising start.
Aiken and Goosen - who played together in the first grouping of the day - took advantage of ideal morning conditions to make the early running.
Things did not start well for Goosen who, after striking the first shot of the new season, went on to make a bogey down the opening hole, the ninth.
But the 42-year-old hit back in stunning style with a run of five straight birdies from the 11th to the 15th and then added three more in the space of four holes between the 18th and the third.
Goosen - who finished last season at the top of the European Tour's putting statistics - again demonstrated his confidence with the belly-putter as he rolled in the ninth and final birdie of his round at the sixth.
However, it was still not good enough to finish at the top of the leaderboard as playing partner Aiken produced a flawless display that included two eagles.
Having opened with two pars, his first eagle arrived at the 11th and he then closed out the front nine with birdies on the 16th, 17th and 18th.
He plundered another eagle at the par-five third after a stunning approach to just two feet, and went on to pick up two more birdies in a flawless round on the fifth and sixth.
The 28-year-old will now have his sights set on a second European Tour title having secured a long overdue maiden success at the Open de Espana last season.
"I wasn't really expecting that after two weeks without touching a club," Aiken told the European Tour's website.
"It was a great morning this morning, early start and the scoring conditions were good. It was out there for the taking and luckily I hit some really good shots and made putts.
"I really enjoyed the round today; this is not the longest course, but it bites if you go askew. Anything off line on this course is pretty much a reload off the tee, which makes it a thinking man's course.
"There are a lot of risk-and-reward holes - a couple of driveable par fours and tricky par threes - and I think that a lot of new courses lack that challenge."