Clinical Aiken crowned champ

South African cards 23-under 265 overall; Bhullar finishes runner-up

Clinical Aiken crowned champ

South Africa’s Thomas Aiken played a solid final round of five-under 67 to clinch the € 1.8 million Avantha Masters and his second European Tour title with a three-shot victory at the Jaypee Greens golf course here on Sunday.

Aiken finished with a total of 23-under 265, building on his overnight lead of three strokes but was given a tough competition by India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar (68, 69, 67, 64) and China’s Liang Wenchong (68, 69, 67, 64).

Bhullar produced a commendable final day performance to notch-up a 20-under 268 to sign off as runner-up while Liang was third with 18-under 270.

Himmat Singh (70, 71, 68, 65) was the only other Indian to finish inside the top ten with a total of 14-under 274 for a share of the ninth place.

Among other Indians, Jeev Milkha Singh (71), Rahil Gangjee (71) and Anirban Lahiri (71) ended in a tie for 23rd, while Jyoti Randhawa (70) was tied 29th. Rashid Khan cracked a bogey-free 66 and ended in a tie for tied 34 at nine-under.

The 29-year-old Aiken made a measured start before stepping up the ante on the back nine. Never for once did he surrender his lead, a good achievement keeping in mind the developing trend here of springing a new leader each day.

Aiken sunk two birdies on the front nine and swelled to three on the back, breaking away from the pack with a bogey-free card of 67.

It was though “no walk in the park” as Aiken would later admit. Bhullar, beginning the day six strokes behind Aiken, was off to a breezy start with  three straight birdies before sinking an eagle on the fifth to go five-under. But Bhullar bogeyed the eighth and Liang double-bogeyed the sixth to make it easy for Aiken.

Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat also did well, especially on the front nine to climb to the second place but Bhullar remained steady and knocked in three birdies in the last five. In fact, Bhullar climbed to the tied second with Aphibarnrat following a birdie on the 14th but the Thai bogeyed the 13th to go down and finished at fourth place.

 Liang was pegged back by two bogeys on the back nine even as Aiken cruised ahead. He birdied both par-fives on the back nine and then sank a 30-footer on 18th to seal victory. This was Aiken's second European Tour victory after the 2011 Open de Espana. He would now move into the top ten of the Race to Dubai with €377,350 and inside the top 90 in the world rankings from 129th place.

“These guys kept coming at me today -- Liang on the front nine and then Bhullar made some amazing birdies coming in,” said Aiken, who took the winner’s cheque of €300,000.  “I want to dedicate this to my wife Kate -- being the wife of a sportsman is  not easy.”

Leading scores (after 72 holes, Indians unless mentioned): 265: Thomas Aiken (SA, 67, 69, 62, 67); 268: Gaganjeet Bhullar (68, 69, 67, 64); 270: Liang Wenchong (Chn, 66, 66, 69, 69); 271: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha, 68,68, 66, 69); 272: Baek Seuk-Hyun (Kor, 68, 68, 70, 66); 273: Scott Hend (Aus,67, 68 68, 70), David Horsey (Eng, 72, 68, 66, 67), David Drysdale (Sco, 67,67, 68, 71); 274: Tommy Fleetwood  (Eng, 69, 65, 69, 71), Himmat Rai (Ind, 70, 71, 68, 65),  Victor Dubuisson (Fra, 69, 68, 70, 67), Julien Quesne (Fra, 69, 66, 69, 70).

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