JOHANNESBURG – Justin Harding has enjoyed plenty of success in 2018, but he is hoping to cap the year off with the biggest prize of all – the South African Open title.
And he’s got as good a chance as anyone of coming out on top on Sunday, when the tournament concludes at Randpark Golf Club.
All of SA’s biggest names will tee it up on the Bushwillow and Firethorn courses from Thursday, chasing the dream of winning the SA Open, and Harding may just be the most in-form of all the locals hoping to bag the big one.
The 32-year-old has enjoyed a stellar season in SA and in Asia, where he leads the Order of Merit at home, and sits third on the list in Asia.
On the Sunshine Tour in 2018, Harding has recorded seven top-10s, including two wins, while on the Asian Tour he has won twice – the Indonesian Open and the Royal Cup.
He was also the runner-up at the Asia-Pacific Open.
And Harding comes into the tournament this week on the back of a strong performance in Mauritius last weekend.
He led for most of the way and looked to be on course for another win, but a final round 71 – to go with his earlier rounds of 67, 69 and 64 – left him three shots off winner Kurt Kitayama, for fourth place.
“Last Sunday hurt a bit, but I’m so looking forward to this week,” said Harding after the pro-am on Randpark’s Bushwillow course.
“I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve been doing, get myself into position and then hope for a better result this week.”
Harding, who is now 82nd on the world rankings, said the time spent on the Asian Tour had made him a more complete player.
“I think I’ve become smarter on the course this year, and maybe playing in Asia, where the courses are a bit different, has helped,” he said.
“I’ve certainly got a better understanding of playing on different courses and what’s required, and where not to make mistakes. And, we all know that in any tournament, the guy that makes the least mistakes wins.”
He said he was fully aware of his position on the Order of Merit in SA and in Asia, and what is at stake in the next two tournaments.
“It’s going to require two very good weeks to get past (last year’s Joburg Open winner) Shubhankar Sharma to win in Asia, but second is available and that opens up a lot of things.
“I’m just behind Sung Hyun Park (of South Korea), so I am hoping to get past him, but need to play well here this week and next week (at the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek). It helps that this is a tri-sanctioned event,” Harding said.
“Then if all goes well here, I can try and sew this up (SA Order of Merit) as well.”@jacq_west