• Joburg Open

Local pair Aiken, Walters lead in Johannesburg

ESPN staff
February 8, 2014
Aiken's previous Tour wins were the 2011 Spanish Open and 2013 Avantha Masters © Getty Images

Johannesburg-born pair Thomas Aiken and Justin Walters will head into the final round atop the leaderboard after sensational rounds on Saturday.

Aiken carded a best-of-the-day 63 on the East Course, before Walters responded with a 64 as the duo reached 17-under par - two clear of Korean Jin Jeong.

Aiken, whose two European Tour wins came at the 2011 Spanish Open and last year's Avantha Masters, holed a 50-foot birdie putt at the par-4 14th to highlight a sterling round at the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club.

The 30-year-old then finished birdie-birdie to set the clubhouse target.

"I've been in a lot of final groups, won twice in Europe and seven times on the Sunshine Tour, so I know what pressures there are going to be," Aiken said. "If you just go and do what you do best, stick to your game plan and take it shot by shot then the best golfer will win at the end of the day."

The target was matched by Walters, who flew out the blocks with seven birdies in his first 11 holes - including one from 40 feet. The birdie blitz dried up until the 16th, where he carded a bogey, before making up for it with an eagle at the par-15 18th.

Walters hit the headlines at the end of last season when he finished second at the Portugal Masters thanks to a 60-foot putt on the final hole. The 33-year-old broke down in tears after the result secured him his European Tour card just two weeks after his mother passed away.

"I hit the ball so well today," Walters said. "Going into the day I just wanted to move forward a little bit, because my last attempt from this position I went quite backwards. I was aware of that and I made a strong effort to be aggressive today.

"I've got one more round tomorrow and I'm so happy that I've put myself into a strong position. I'm super excited for tomorrow, because it's what we play for."

Speaking of his eagle at 18, he added: "Considering the situation I am in it was pretty vital, because giving [Aiken] a nice lead on this course will make him hard to catch.

"To hit a close one in there on the last and to hear the grandstand roar from way back down the fairway gives you the goosebumps, and that's why we play. It's nice to give people something to cheer about.

"Tomorrow is certainly a good opportunity, and I will be nervous, but hopefully I can improve on my record in South Africa."

Jeong, who earned his maiden Tour win in Perth at the end of last year, recorded five birdies, an eagle and a single dropped shot in his round of 66, while Finland's Roope Kakko a stroke further back in following a 67.

Overnight leaders Edoardo Molinari and Craig Lee could only manage rounds of 72 and 74 respectively to lose ground on the leaders, but the pair retained two of the qualifying positions for The Open, and were accompanied by George Coetzee. Three players who finish in the top ten and ties that are not already exempt will qualify for the Open.

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