Antalya – Former world number one Rory McIlroy is ready to roar at the $7-million Turkish Airlines Open, but Africa Open champions Thomas Aiken and Trevor Fisher Jnr from South Africa are just as keen to impress at The Montgomerie Maxx Royal this week.
Aiken has spent the last few months travelling between Europe and the United States in an effort to qualify for the 2016 PGA Tour via the Web.Com Tour.
But with his PGA Tour card secured, his focus has now shifted to the European Tour’s Final Series.
Fisher Jnr will start the week ranked 61st and Aiken 62nd and both players are targeting a solid performance this week to break into the top 60 in the Race to Dubai to qualify for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“We are getting down to the business end of the season and a solid result here in Turkey sets you up nicely the next two events and Dubai,” Aiken said.
“There is a lot of top ranked players in the field and that translates to a lot of world ranking points and a significant boost in the Race to Dubai rankings, if you can pull off a decent result.
“It’s all to play for this week, really.”
Aiken hopes wife Kate on the bag will boost his chances.
“She probably calls it punishment, but it’s really great to have your best friend on the bag and she doesn’t cost much, either,” he joked.
“Seriously, though, Kate caddied for me quite a bit on the Web.Com Tour and that worked out really well, so I’m counting on her to keep me on the right track this week.”
The 32-year-old registered four sub-par rounds in 2013 to tie for 15th and believes the recent rain and receptive greens guarantee another low scoring tournament.
“You can go really low around this course, especially with five par fives,” Aiken said.
“They had a lot of rain last week – something like 12 inches – so the greens are really receptive. We will definitely be going at the pins.”
After a superb tie for third in the Portugal Masters a fortnight ago, a recharged Fisher Jnr also liked what he saw.
“It’s the first time that I’ve played here and it’s a great course,” he said.
“You can definitely go on the attack here if you are driving it well and your irons are hot. Plus, there is no cut this week, so you can afford to get more aggressive this week.
“Hopefully I’m the guy who goes on a birdie binge this week.”
Meanwhile McIlroy is gunning for a third Race to Dubai victory.
The former world number one ruptured a ligament in his left ankle at the end of June and made his competitive return at the PGA Championship.
He holds the number one spot, but will need to stave off in-from Englishman Danny Willett and Shane Lowry from Ireland, ranked second and fifth respectively.
“Winning the Race to Dubai or one of the three events I am playing would make me feel better about the end of the year,” he said. “I’m pretty much back to where I need to be, but if I finished the season without a win, it would be very disappointing.”
McIlroy said a change in putting fortune this week should be just the ticket.
“I’ve been struggling with my putting more than anything else,” he said.
“I’ve hit the ball well enough to contend in tournaments and to win tournaments, but my putting sort of held me back. So I’ve worked on that quite a lot and continuing to work on it, but I feel like that’s going in the right direction.
“But it’s been sort of two steps forward and one step back a little bit since I’ve come back from injury, and I would just like to keep moving forward these next four weeks and try to finish the season on a positive note.”