Justin Harding hadn’t played Euphoria Golf Estate as a professional, but on Wednesday he defied the odds and shot 66 to lead the morning field on day one of the first tournament of the Vodacom Origins of Golf presented by Samsung.
“The last time I played here was in 2009 and just before I turned pro, so today I was just trying to figure out the place. I didn’t get to play the back nine in the practice round yesterday, so it was the first time in about five years that I played the stretch,” he said.
It was a thrilling six-under-par round by the 28-year-old, who started with a bogey on the first and then fought his way back to reach the turn at four-under. Further birdies at the 10th and 11th launched him two shots clear of the pack.
“I went through a stretch of holes from the third onwards where I made seven birdies in nine holes and that really got me going,” said Harding.
A bogey five at the 13th could have soured the round, but the Stellenbosch local played his approach at the par-four 14th to tap-in distance and returned to six-under. He retained that score all the way to clubhouse to lead by two shots over Jacques Blaauw and Ross Wellington.
“That was pretty big,” he said. “I got on a run over the front nine and making a bogey flattened that. On the 14th I managed to knock one in there tight and tap it in for birdie. From there it was smooth sailing.”
A three-time winner on the Sunshine Tour and recent runner-up at the Mopani Copper Mines Zambia Open, Harding has the credentials to run away with victory at Euphoria this week.
“I had a good result in Zambia and it’s nice to be back up there. There are two more rounds left and if I can keep going then anything can happen. It’s been a while since I last won and I could do with a victory!” he said.
Wellington had to pre-qualify for this week’s R600,000 tournament, which made his four-under-par 68 for the first round even more impressive. Last month the Pecanwood Golf Estate member finished fourth at the Investec Royal Swazi Open and he will surely look for another top result this week.
At the end of the morning session only Blaauw had a bogey-free card, which helped him secure a share of second place on four-under. The 28-year-old ranks 17th on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit and has collected three runner-up results this season, which means a win is long overdue.