Justin Harding in action at the Dubai Desert Classic in Dubai. Photo: EPA/Martin Dokoupil

SAUDI ARABIA – Justin Harding has been riding his luck ever since finishing off the 2018 season on a high and wishes to continue the momentum for as long as it lasts.

The 32-year-old Stellenbosch golfer, who snuck into the Dubai Desert Classic via the Asian Tour last week, finishing eighth and then being invited to play in this week’s inaugural $3.5 million Saudi International at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club here in Jeddah, has amazingly continued riding high and is looking for more of the same.

Yesterday in warm, sunny conditions in this first ever European Tour tournament in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, he posted a five-under-par 65 and revealed that he had not planned to play these two events on his 2019 schedule.

“I only had Singapore and then Australia to start off 2019 and never had these two events in mind,” he said with a smile. “I got into Dubai through the Asia Tour and then with that finish I got in here. It’s worked out just fine for me and I’m enjoying it.”

He ended 2018 in a good way by finishing well in Hong Kong and Mauritius, the only tri-sanctioned tournament in the world. His goal this year is obviously trying to secure playing privileges or full playing privileges in Europe.

“The easier and quicker I do that, so to speak, then the less stress will be on me towards the end of the year,” he said. “It’s a different experience over here. It’s nice and it’s actually quite relaxed. We obviously don’t have crowds to worry about, but it’s a good golf course and should be a good test.”

Harding, now ranked 80th in the world, finished yesterday’s opening round with five birdies and a bogey on a course he is, like everyone else, still learning about.

“I thought I played quite nicely. I managed my game quite well. The only green I missed was on eight where I hit it just short. It’s a golf course everyone is still trying to learn about. If you put it in play it’s short enough to where you feel as if you can attack some flags,” he said.

“You are going to get frustrated at times, especially when you aren’t making a bunch of birdies. However, scores will be good this week and I’m happy to have posted a good one to start.”

The South African said the key to playing this course is to be patient and calm throughout the round.

“To post a good, respectable score you’ve got to have a bit of patience. As I said, it’s one of those courses where you feel as though there are a bunch of birdies out there. You can make some mistakes if you short-side yourself but it’s a golf course which I kind of feel like I’m happy on,” Harding said.

“The greens are obviously a bit different. There are a couple of them like this back home but these are obviously still new. They are a bit tricky to read sometimes. I missed a few putts which I wouldn’t otherwise, but it was all in all a good day.”

Iqbal Khan