Harding makes most of a last-minute spot, lies second in Saudi

Fri 01 Feb 2019

Harding makes most of a last-minute spot, lies second in Saudi


V. Krishnaswamy

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, February 01: South Africa’s Justin Harding made the most of a last-minute spot courtesy of his top-10 finish last week in Dubai, to get off to a flying start with a five-under-par 65 at the inaugural US$ 3.5 million Saudi International powered by SBIA on Thursday.

The two-time Asian Tour winner sits on tied-second with a bunch of six others, two shots behind the leader, Thomas Pieters of Belgium (63), at the European Tour event held at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club within the King Abdullah Economic City.

Among other Asian Tour members off to a good start were India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar and Malaysia’s Gavin Green, with matching 68s to place tied-31st. Other notable names in the field include Australia’s Scott Hend and South Africa’s Ernie Els, with 70 each at tied-65th; Korea’s Jeunghun Wang, American duo Kurt Kitayama and David Lipsky with 71 each at tied-83rd.

Australia’s Wade Ormsby (73) was 108th while reigning Asian Tour number one, India’s Shubhankar Sharma carded a 77 to sit on tied-126th.

Starting on the back nine, Harding was sedate until well into the second nine. He birdied his first hole and then added a second on 15th, but dropped his only bogey on 16th to turn in one-under. He stayed that way till the end of the third, his 12th hole. Then, he caught fire from there with four birdies in his last six holes with back-to-back efforts on fourth and fifth and then again on eighth and ninth.

Harding said, “I played nicely in Hong Kong and Mauritius and posted a couple good results and last week, as well. Just seeing if I can keep riding the wave and momentum and push on.”

Speaking on his getting into Dubai and from there into Saudi, he said, “It was one of those where I snuck into Dubai, obviously, through Asian Tour, so that was also one which wasn't really on the schedule at the end of December. I was pretty much going to start my run in Singapore and then go on to Australia.

On his play on Thursday, he added, “I thought I played quite nicely. I managed my game quite well. It's a golf course everyone is still trying to learn. If you put it in play, it's short enough to where you feel as if you can attack some flags. You are going to have times where you are going to get frustrated when you aren't making a bunch of birdies. Scores will be good this week and I'll be happy to post a good one to start.”

Bhullar was unable to come to terms with the slow greens and despite some fine driving and iron play, he managed only a 68. 

“A couple of lip outs and a couple of small misses including one from inside three feet on the fourth did not help. It could easily have been two or three shots better,” said Bhullar. 

World number one Justin Rose finished his first round at level-par while world number two and playing partner Brooks Koepka, who was three-under-par through 11, saw a promising start fade away as he signed for a 69. The 2016 Open winner Henrik Stenson was the best round in the marquee group at 68.

The reigning Masters champion, Patrick Reed finished at three-under, while last week's Omega Dubai Desert Classic winner Bryson DeChambeau, who was one-over through 13, pulled in three late birdies in last five to finish at 68. World No. 3 Dustin Johnson shot 68, while Sergio Garcia carded 69.