Aiken staves off Bhullar's challenge to win Avantha Masters
Greater Noida - South Africa’s Thomas Aiken ensured his maiden trip to India would be unforgettable as he shrugged off the final day pressure to close with a five-under-par 67 and win the 1.8 million euro Avantha Masters here on Sunday.
Aiken’s winning total of 23-under-par 265 was enough to make him the second successive South African to win the Avantha Masters title after Jbe Kruger in 2012 and also earned him 20 world ranking points, which is the highest offered in any tournament in Asia this week.
Four-time Asian Tour winner Gaganjeet Bhullar of India surmounted a late charge with a 64 but that was not enough to pip Aiken for the title and he had to settle for second place at the Jaypee Greens Golf Course.
China’s Liang Wen-chong closed with a 69 to take third place while Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat also signed off with a 69 to take fourth place on 271 at the tournament tri-sanctioned by the Asian Tour, European Tour and Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI).
Overnight leader Aiken, who started the day with a three-shot advantage thanks to a spectacular 62 on Saturday, continued his charge by making birdies on holes two and five before turning in 34.
He had to fend off the combined challenges of Bhullar and Liang by making further birdies on the 12 and 15 holes.
It was however, a closing birdie on the last hole that finally ensured the Avantha Masters trophy would remain with a South African for the second straight year.
“Some of the other guys played fantastic golf today. Liang really had it going on the front nine, and then Gaganjeet played some unbelievable golf on the back nine,” said Aiken.
“He didn’t give me any breathing space, so hats off to him. I had to keep concentrating up until the second last shot. Then I could finally relax and enjoy the moment,” added Aiken.
Starting the day in tied-eighth, Bhullar knew he had to overturn a five-shot deficit before harbouring any hopes of winning his fifth Asian Tour title.
The 24-year-old got off strongly when three birdies and an eagle got him to five-under after five holes.
Bhullar dropped a shot on the eighth hole but came back strongly again with birdies on holes 10, 14, 15 and 17 for an outward 32.
“I played aggressively and I needed to make a good charge to have a chance. I made only one mistake on eighth, where I missed the fairways. But that happens,” said Bhullar.
Starting his round three shots back of Aiken, Liang birdied three of his opening five holes before a double-bogey six on the sixth hole set him back.
The Chinese, who earned the distinction of being the first mainland Chinese to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2007, stamped his mark again when he responded quickly by posting the event’s first hole-in-one of the par-three seventh.
Kiradech could not maintain his impressive run as he marked his card with another bogey and a birdie in his outward-nine and had to eventually settle for a 69.