Thomas Aiken kept the Africa Open in South African hands – and his temporary caddie very happy – by defeating England’s Oliver Fisher in a play-off to claim his third European Tour title.
Aiken birdied the first extra hole at East London Golf Club after he and Fisher had finished tied on 20 under par, joining compatriots Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen (twice) and Darren Fichardt in lifting the trophy.
Fisher narrowly failed with a birdie putt on the 18th to win in regulation, but then missed the green when the players returned to the same hole for the play-off and was facing a 15ft par attempt before Aiken made sure of victory by holing from 35ft.
It was the 30-year-old’s first European Tour win on home soil after previous victories in Spain and India, not to mention the first with his wife, Kate, acting as his caddie, with his regular bagman in America on business.
“I’ve been waiting for this for quite some time,” said Aiken, who was second to Schwartzel in the inaugural Africa Open in 2010.
“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. Thanks so much to my wife, who helped me on the bag this week for the first time; this could be a bit of trouble because we might have to do it again!”
As well as finishing runner-up in 2010, Aiken has had three top-15 finishes at East London and praised the undulating layout which, at 6,632 yards, is the shortest on the European Tour.
“East London is a fantastic golf club, it’s an old club and it just shows a course doesn’t need to be long for it to play interestingly,” Aiken added. “You have to think your way around this golf course, it’s not just get up on every tee and hit driver.”
Aiken, who finished fifth in his last two events in Qatar and Johannesburg, carded a closing 67 and Fisher a 69, with the tournament blown wide open when overnight leader Emiliano Grillo ran up a quintuple-bogey nine on the first. Grillo held a two-shot lead thanks to a brilliant 62 on Saturday, but the 21-year-old Argentine had already taken a penalty drop from an unplayable lie when he chipped his fourth shot into a greenside bunker, from where he needed two attempts to escape. His sixth shot had rolled back off the green however and after chipping up to seven feet, he needed two putts to complete an extraordinary opening hole and drop his first shot since his 15th hole on Thursday.
To his credit, Grillo battled back from a front nine of 43 to birdie the last five holes and claim a share of fifth on 18 under alongside Richard Bland, Jaco van Zyl and defending champion Darren Fichardt.
“It’s been a good start to the year,” said Grillo, who was second in the Dubai Desert Classic. “Of course I was looking for a win but the first hole pretty much took me away from the tournament.”
Meanwhile, Karrie Webb held on to clinch a fifth ISPS HANDA Women’s Australian Open title with a one-stroke win at Victoria Golf Club in Melbourne.
The 39 year-old Queenslander finished at 12-under par with a final round 4-under par 68 to beat Korean Chella Choi who carded a two-over par 74.
It was a full scale turnaround from the events of the previous week in Queensland, when Webb was disqualified for signing for an incorrect score.
“It’s amazing what happens, what a difference a week makes. Obviously, this time last week I wouldn’t be expecting to be sitting here, so I’m glad things changed around quickly for me,” Webb added.