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Thomas Aiken leads at sombre Spanish Open

Thomas Aiken shot a 4-under 69 to Friday to take a one-stroke lead in the Spanish Open, overshadowed by news about Spanish great Seve Ballesteros’ worsening health.

Aiken, from South Africa, had an 8-under 136 total. Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal (70) was second, and countryman Alvaro Velasco (70), Frenchman Romain Wattel (71), England’s Anthony Wall (70) and Scotland’s Scott Jamieson (71) were 6 under.

The majority of players were on the El Prat course when news emerged that five-time major champion Ballesteros’ condition has severely deteriorated, more than two years after the 54-year-old had surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor. Ryder Cup partners Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez were moved to tears as they left the course and both declined to talk to reporters.

“We tried to talk to them after their rounds but they couldn’t even speak because they were crying. They couldn’t even talk,” Spanish Open spokeswoman Maria Acacia Lopez-Bachiller said. “This had to be the saddest competition in terms of ambiance today. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Both players managed to go around the course in even-par 72, with Jimenez sitting seven strokes back of Aiken, and Olazabal—one of Ballesteros’ best friends—another shot behind.

Former Ryder Cup player and captain Ballesteros won three British Opens and two Masters with a game marked by spectacular improvisational play. One of the best-known personalities in Spain and the golfing world, he also won 50 times on the European Tour and is widely credited with transforming European golf.

“There’s no words to describe it, it’s something that touches all of our hearts,” said Italian teenager Matteo Manassero, 1 under after a 70. “He’s always been my idol. I don’t know what to say, he’s an incredible person and his fighting spirit is an example. My first memory of Seve is from when I was four or five, I saw him play at the Italian Open at my home club.”

Ballesteros fainted at Madrid’s international airport while waiting to board a flight to Germany on Oct. 6, 2008, and was subsequently diagnosed with the brain tumor. He was hospitalized for 66 days and underwent four brain operations.

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