Aiken Sets Early Pace in Swaziland


Sunshine TourIn only his second appearance as a professional on the Sunshine Tour, rookie Thomas Aiken took the outright lead on a logjam leaderboard after round one of the Royal Swazi Sun Open.
Aiken fired a 6-under-par 66 around the par-72 layout of the at Royal Swazi Sun Country Club, but will face stiff competition from the group of breathing down his neck, only one stroke back.
Ireland's James Loughnane, Zimbabwean Mike Lamb, England's Stuart Davis, Natalians Bradley Davison and Jaco van Zyl from Natal, as well as Mark Murless from Johannesburg are all poised to strike at the lead after rounds of 5-under-par 67.
'I'm very pleased with my round today,' Aiken said afterwards. 'It went a lot better than my debut performance at Dimension Data'.
Aiken is no stranger to the layout of the Royal Swazi Sun course, having played here in the All Africa Cup amateur event in November last year.
Playing off the championship tees in that tournament, Aiken finished in second place with a total score of 15-under-par.
The 18-year old started confidently on the back nine, with birdies at the 11th, 12th and 13th holes, before running into trouble at the par-4 15th.
His drive finished to the right of the fairway, landing among some trees and from a bad lie, he could only punch it short of the green. He chipped it over the back of the green into the bunker and an up-and-down from the bunker brought the only blemish to his otherwise perfect scorecard.
At the par-4 16th, Aiken bounced back with a birdie, then added three more on the front nine, at the first, fifth and seventh holes.
'There were certainly more birdies to be made out there today. If you can keep your drives in the fairway and find the middle of the green, you have every chance of making birdies,' said Aiken. 'I could have added at least four more to my score, at six, 15, 17 and 18'.
Aiken's game is obviously reaping the rewards of improved health.
'I suffered with bronchial pneumonia from the beginning of January and only recently started feeling better. I am much more confident this week than in Sun City; I feel on top of my game for the first time in a while'.
Having turned professional this year during the Dimension Data Pro-am on the Sunshine Tour, Aiken first qualified, but then missed the cut by two after posting rounds of 74-74.
'I was doing fine through the first 15 holes of the second round, then lost my rhythm and ended up with bogeys on the last three holes.
'Although I was very keen to turn professional, I was surprised at the extend of the adjustment from amateur to professional. It's a whole new stage, with a new set friends to be made, almost a different game all together'.
The defending champion Bradford Vaughan, who won the tournament last year with a staggering 25-under-par 263, did not enjoy a welcome return to the hilly layout.
Bogeys on the first and fourth holes were remedied by birdies on the seventh and eighth, but an expensive double bogey followed on the par-4 11th, and left Vaughan drifting toward the bottom of the leaderboard.
Vaughan fought back with birdies on the par-5 12th, par-4 13th and the par-5 17th holes to take his total to 1-under-par 71.