JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s Justin Harding ensured the golfing world took note as he carded three-under 69 in the first round of the Masters at Augusta on Thursday.
The 33-year-old played in the morning and held the clubhouse lead for much of the day, before Americans Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka carded six-under 66s. Three-time Masters champions Phil Mickelson (USA) was third with a five-under 67, England’s Ian Poulter and American Dustin Johnson were tied fourth on four-under 68.
At the close of the round, Harding was tied sixth alongside another former Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia, Spain’s John Rahm, Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat and American Kevin Kisner.
The play of Harding to set his name at the top of the leaderboard earlier stunned the golf world, prompting headlines like “Who is Justin Harding: The unknown golfer surprising at the Masters” by the New York Post.
Harding began his round by making birdie from 10 feet at the first, before adding another gain at the third after hitting his approach to two feet. He dropped a shot on the fifth but responded with a birdie at the par three sixth.
Birdies followed at the par five 15th and par four 17th to move Harding up to four-under standing on the 18th tee. But, after finding the fairway bunker with his drive Harding could only manage bogey to fall back to three-under. Still, an incredible effort for the Masters debutant.
Harding earned his invite to the year’s first Major by moving inside the world’s top-50 golfers by the end of March.
At the end of 2017 Harding was ranked 712th in the world, but since February last year he’s played in 22 countries, registering 16 top-10 finishes including five wins - most notably his debut European Tour victory at the Qatar Masters on March 17.
Louis Oosthuizen was the next best SA player with a one-under 71 for a share of 21st, Branden Grace was 29th after an even par 72. The 21-year-old amateur Jovan Rebula carded an impressive one-over 73 for a share of 44th.
Former Masters champions Trevor Immelman and Charl Schwartzel were further down the leaderboard. The 39-year-old Immelman shot a two-over 74 for tied-58th place, while Schwartzel struggled to a five-over 77 to occupy 77th position.
African News Agency (ANA)