Aiken charges up the leaderboard

South African takes three-shot lead

South Africa’s Thomas Aiken stroked a brilliant 10-under 62 to grab a three-shot lead at the end of the third round of the Avantha Masters at the Jaypee Greens golf course here on Saturday.

Aiken (67, 69, 62), starting the day four shots behind joint leaders Chapchai Nirat and Wenchong Liang, carded eight birdies and an eagle in a blemish-free performance that took his total to 198.

He had to briefly jostle for space at the top after Kiradech Aphibarnrat (68, 68, 66) matched him by scoring 30 on front nine in the morning. The Thai, however, could not continue in the same vein, mustering only a 36 with one eagle and two bogeys on back nine as Aiken comfortably nosed ahead with a 32.

Kiradech is now tied third with David Drysdale (67, 67 68), who was also at 14-under, followed by Scott Hend (67, 68, 68), Joonas Granberg (67, 67 69) and Tommy Fleetwood (69, 65, 69) at 13-under for a share of the fifth place.

The last three days have produced as many front-runners with overnight joint leaders Wenchong Liang (66, 66, 69) and Chapchai Nirat (66, 66, 72) slipping down the board earlier in the day.

While Liang, undone by two bogeys in front nine, held onto the second place (201), Nirat spiraled down seven places, courtesy three bogeys, two of which came at back nine.

The day was not easier for the Indians, too, with Gaganjeet Bhullar (68, 69, 67) going into the final day as the nearest challenger to Aiken with a deficit of six strokes. Jeev Milkha Singh (69, 68, 69) with a 10-under, was once again haunted by bogeys. He has eight of them over three days, three of which came on Saturday.

Bhullar bettered his performance with a score of five-under and could draw satisfaction by finishing a bogey-free round for the first time in the tournament. He nailed five birdies, including a 50-footer at the eighth and 15th hole.

Anirban Lahiri (70) and Rahil Gangjee (72) were tied 23rd at nine-under, while Jyoti Randhawa (68) moved to eight-under in tied 32nd.

However, young Abhijit Chadha disappointed after a promising show on the first two days. He dropped four shots in last five holes to finish with a 74 that saw him fall to tied 37th, alongside Himmat Rai (68), Ashok Kumar (70) at seven-under.

Aiken, a fast bowler at the under-12 level who also dabbled with tennis as a junior before picking golf at age 15, felt he has improved as the week progressed.

“Fortunately this week I’ve converted a lot of the opportunities that I’ve had; the majority of them have gone in from inside ten feet and that’s what makes the difference from a scoring point of view,” said said Aiken, whose best finish this season is tied sixth at the Joburg Open.

Leading scores (after 54 holes, Indians unless mentioned): 198: Thomas Aiken (SA, 67, 69, 62); 201: Liang Wenchong (Chn, 66, 66, 69); 202: David  Drysdale (Sco, 67, 67 68), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha, 68 68, 66); 203: Joonas Granberg  (Fin, 67, 67 69),  Scott Hend (Aus, 67, 68, 68), Tommy Fleetwood  (Eng, 69, 65, 69); 204: Chapchai Nirat (Tha, 66, 66, 72), Julien Quesne  (Fra, 69, 66, 69), Gaganjeet Bhullar (68, 69, 67),  Jaakko Makitalo  (Fin, 67 68 69).

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