Justin Harding chips on the second hole during the first round of the Masters at Augusta. Photo: Chris Carlson/AP

AUGUSTA, Georgia – South African Justin Harding stood atop the Masters leaderboard early in Thursday’s opening round at Augusta National, firing a three-under par 69 to seize the clubhouse lead.

Also on the course at three-under were American Patton Kizzire and Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard.

Harding, 33, was among the last players to qualify for the Masters, reaching the world rankings top 50 after a win at Qatar and runner-up effort in Kenya last month in European Tour events.

Harding opened with a birdie from 10 feet and added another at the third, landing his approach two feet from the cup.

He took a bogey at the fifth, missing the green on his approach and a 12-foot par putt, but answered with a four-foot birdie putt at the par-3 sixth.

The South African birdied the par-5 15th and par-4 17th, but found a bunker at 18, blasted out to 14 feet and two-putted for bogey to fall back into a share of the overall lead.

Tiger Woods was 1-under through 10 holes, while Rory McIlroy was on level par heading to the back nine.

AFP