Aiken on course for maiden title

07/05/2011 16:31:32
Thomas Aiken  (Getty Images)
Thomas Aiken (Getty Images)

Thomas Aiken holds a two shot lead going into the final round of the Open de España, where the show went on amid all the tears shed for Seve Ballesteros - many of them inevitably by Jose Maria Olazábal.

South African Aiken still leads at El Prat near Barcelona after a third round 72, but the whole day's play was inevitably overshadowed by the death of the five-time Major Champion and three-time winner of his national title.

Flags were at half-mast, players wore black ribbons and a minute's silence in mid-afternoon was followed by a round of applause.

Olazábal had just finished a 75 by then after playing with Colin Montgomerie (73) - Ryder Cup Captains both, but only one of them, of course, the man who with Ballesteros had formed the most formidable cup partnership in history.

"Olly was in floods of tears most of the day. He has lost an older brother almost," said Montgomerie, his own voice shaky with the emotion of the day.

Another Spaniard, Pablo Larrazábal, was dressed all in black as he continued his bid to put his name on a trophy that Ballesteros last lifted in 1995 - one that made him the only player in European Tour history to record 50 victories.

Aiken doubled his one shot halfway lead by remaining eight under, but four players are now six under - Larrazábal (73), Dane Anders Hansen (69) and European Tour rookies Scott Jamieson and Romain Wattel from Scotland and France. They both shot 72.

Nobody scored lower than Hansen and while the wind and pin placings had most to do with that, the sombre atmosphere probably played a part as well.

Larrazábal fought back from an opening bogey with a five foot birdie at the fourth, but his emotions were clearly running high as he dropped shots at the 16th and 17th.

But the former Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year composed himself to birdie the last.

“Since I heard the news this morning I couldn’t get it out of my head.” He said. “It has been a tough day. I was on the eighth during the minute of silence, it was the saddest minute of my career.

“I only want to win the tournament for him; if I hit the ball well and putt correctly I have a chance to win it and dedicate it to him and to his family”

Aiken has never won on The European Tour, but seven top-14 finishes in nine starts this season suggest that may be about to change.

The 27 year old took seven weeks off prior to arriving in Barcelona, and they seem to have done some good as Aiken holed a string of important clutch putts.

“Seve’s charisma is an inspiration for all of us,” he said. “He played with passion and determination. We must put things in perspective in order to value everything he did for golf. Seve will somehow never die.”

Olazábal and Miguel Angel Jiménez - vice-captain to Ballesteros at Valderrama in 1997 - embraced at the start of the day and again after the minute's silence.

They have been trying to win the Open de España since 1983 and their wait looks certain to go on. They are both three over.

Olazábal said: "I just played the most difficult round of my life. It was very tough to make it to the first tee and hit the first drive.

"I don't think there will ever be another player like him. There can be others that are very good, but none will have his charisma."