Having secured a spot in the Volvo World Match Play Championship semi-final with a 3&2 victory over Francesco Molinari, Thomas Aiken hailed his inspirational compatriots Ernie Els and Gary Player and his country’s illustrious history in the revered event.
The 29 year old South African had earlier triumphed over Ireland’s Shane Lowry on the 19th hole of the morning last-16 clash to progress to the afternoon quarter-finals, where he faced Italian Ryder Cup star Molinari.
After sharing the first four holes in pars, Aiken went ahead with birdie at the par five fifth before what the Johannesburg native described as the match’s “turning point.”
“The first hole I won was the fifth and then seven was quite a turning point,” Aiken said. “He hit it on the front of the green and it was a tough putt but I was in the bunker and hit a great bunker shot to about a foot. He three putted and I think that was a key moment.”
Aiken birdied the iconic par three eighth to move into a three-hole lead and, despite Molinari clawing a couple of holes back on the homeward nine the South African finished off the tie in style with a birdie at the long 16th to set up a semi-final match-up with Thongchai Jaidee on Sunday morning.
Designed by the aforementioned Player, Thracian Cliff’s stunning signature course is this week hosting the 48th edition of the World Match Play, and South African pedigree is sewn into the very fabric of the tournament’s cherished history.
Course designer Player jointly holds the all-time appearance record in the event with 20 caps, while ‘The Black Knight’ also triumphed five times between 1965 and 1973.
Els, meanwhile, is the most prolific victor in the event’s 50-year history, having captured the World Match Play crown on seven occasions, twice winning three years in succession – from 1994-1996 and 2002-2004 – and Aiken saluted his countrymen’s achievements and the motivation that provided as he makes his own bid to triumph on Sunday.
“We've got a lot of history in this tournament with Gary Player and Ernie Els winning it so many times, so let it be another South African this year,” said Aiken, who has already won earlier this year at the Avantha Masters.
“We have a lot to play for this week. It's a really important tournament, a lot of heritage, in its 50th year.
“It’s also a Presidents Cup year, so you're trying to show them that you can play match play. So there's a lot of stuff going on and I just want to keep winning.”
As it is, South Africa have a double-chance for World Match Play success on Sunday, as 24 year old Branden Grace will take on Graeme McDowell in the other semi-final having overcome Chris Wood 2&1 on Saturday, and Aiken said he would be rooting for his friend.
He said: “I'm glad that we are not playing each other yet and hopefully we can see each other in the final. That would be fantastic. I would love to play Branden in the final; he’s a really nice guy, a good friend of mine.
“Let’s keep it all South African!”