Aiken: this is the title we all want

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South Afica's Thomas Aiken is desperate to win the Nelson Mandela Championship. Photo by Julian Finney

Ask any professional which tournament they would like to win at this moment and they will tell you without any hesitation – the Nelson Mandela Championship.

Every professional in this week’s e1 million (R14.27m) Nelson Mandela Championship is dreaming of lifting the unusual trophy which will be presented to the winner at Mount Edgecombe Country Club on Saturday afternoon.

One South African professional, Thomas Aiken, unashamedly said he was desperate to win the crown.

“It’s a very emotional week. He has touched everyone’s heart in some way or the other and how fortunate are we as professionals to be playing a tournament named after him in the week that he passed on?” said the 30-year-old, who has won seven times on the Sunshine Tour, twice on the European Tour and once on the Asian Tour in a career that started in 2002.

“I’ve played in a few Nelson Mandela Invitational events and never got to meet Madiba. Now I’m playing in the Nelson Mandela Championship and it’s a great honour to be participating in an event that hopes to continue his legacy of assisting children. I’m a South African and Mandela is very dear to me as he was someone we all could look up to.

“How nice it would be if we could do a little of what he did and knit everyone together – like we are now all in sorrow – and make this country a better place to live in.”

Aiken said his focus this week would be on one thing alone – to win the championship.

“That, to me, would be the best thing to have on my CV – a win at the Nelson Mandela Championship. Wouldn’t that be great?”

Aiken, whose last win came in March in New Delhi, where he won the Avantha Masters – a co-sanctioned European Tour event like this week’s – said his game was in a good space and he would like to convert his form into a win.

“I’ve played well in the last four or five weeks and I’m feeling good,” he said after a practice round yesterday.

“I have a plan in mind as to how to play this course and will follow it as I go along during the week.”

Aiken, who finished 44th in the Race to Dubai last year, will be up against it as this week’s field also includes Branden Grace, a four-time winner on the European Tour last year, defending champion, Scott Jamieson, winner of the 2013 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, Darren Fichardt, and Italy’s Eduardo Molinari, who played in winning European 2010 Ryder Cup team.

Grace, like Aiken, will head to Mount Edgecombe Country Club looking to lift the title and mark Madiba’s death in the best possible manner.

“It’s kind of bittersweet to be playing in the Nelson Mandela Championship just a week after Madiba’s death,” said Grace.

“It’s nice to be able to go and support something like that and the great cause that it supports. It’s not a happy time in South Africa, so it’s nice to be able to be in a position where I can go and support the tournament.”

The tournament starts tomorrow – a day earlier than usual – and will end on Saturday as Madiba’s funeral is on Sunday.


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