While his display in last weekÂs Sunshine Tour tournament wonÂt inspire confidence, defending champion Justin Harding takes good memories with him to this weekÂs R900,000 Lombard Insurance Classic.
The tour returns to the Royal Swazi Sun layout outside Mbabane after the Investec Royal Swazi Open at the beginning of the month, and Harding managed a 38th place finish there Â better than his missed cut with rounds of 80 and 73 at the Lost City Golf Club in last weekÂs Sun City Challenge.
He posted rounds of 68-69-70-74 in his last Swazi outing, and while the closing 74 would not have pleased him, his opening three rounds were good stroke play performances in a tournament decided on a modified stableford system.
He also had a solid opening two rounds to the following tournament at Simola with rounds of 69 and 67, but his closing level-par 72 was an up-and-down affair which saw him fall out of contention as Ryan Cairns came through with his maiden Sunshine Tour victory.
Harding will be looking to rekindle the kind of form which saw him take a stranglehold on last yearÂs Lombard Insurance Classic with his opening eight-under-par 64.
Astonishingly, his nine-birdie blitz was only enough for a three-way share of second behind first-round leader Desvonde BotesÂ 63, but Harding followed up with a 68 and closed with 70 for his one-stroke win over Neil Cheetham.
His second round last year was also instructive as to how his long game can take away the initiative from any pursuers: He made three eagles in that 68, and those flashes of brilliance Â when they happen in a single round like that Â can be very difficult to counter.
He will have to contend with the man who won in Swaziland at the beginning of May: Christiaan Basson always performs on the rolling Royal Swazi layout, and he finished in the top 10 in last yearÂs Lombard Insurance Classic.
Harding will also know that the event is growing in importance every year, and with the prize fund up to R900,000 from last yearÂs R850,000 (and the previous yearÂs R750,000), he will find plenty of challengers wanting to keep him from a successful defence.
The pre-qualifying round takes place on the course on Thursday, and the tournament gets underway on Friday.