28th March 2019 | Sunshine Tour
Justin Harding defeated world number 34 Matthew Fitzpatrick 1-up on Wednesday to win his first World Golf Championship match in the opening day’s play of the Dell Technologies World Match Play in Austin, Texas.
Harding, who spent four years at Lamar University in Texas, took advantage of Fitzpatrick’s stumble on the closing two holes to win a match ahead of his date today with Rory McIlroy.
“I definitely feel as though I stole it,” said Harding. “I, like Matty, didn’t really get too much going. I battled with the club selection pretty much the entire day. I hung in there, missed a couple of putts I probably would otherwise like to have not missed. But I guess the up-and-down on 17 was quite special. I certainly didn’t see that one coming.”
Harding, who has experienced a meteoric rise to international prominence over the last year, is ranked number 49 in the world, and it looking to stay inside the top 50 this week in order to get a last-minute invitation to Augusta National to play in the first major of the year, the Masters.
He was blown away by the experience of playing in his first World Golf Championship event. “It’s fantastic,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable tournament. It’s run very, very well. And I kind of feel as though it’s my second home, I suppose. I spent four years down in Texas, as well. I’m just trying to make the most of it, seeing if I can post a few results. And I feel lucky today, didn’t really feel like I won it, but I’ll take it.”
Looking ahead to his match against McIlroy, he was phlegmatic about his chances. “Yeah, I think I’m going to have to improve a little bit to take him on,” he laughed. “Rory’s been playing great over the last couple of weeks. It will be a nice opportunity for me to see how it’s done inside the ropes, and maybe learn a little bit as well, and give the boy a little bit of a challenge.”
He needs to take a tip from Branden Grace, who also won his first match, defeating Hideki Matsuyama 4&3. “Match play all go,” he said. “You have to trust yourself. You have to go after shots. When it’s tricky and windy like today, it kind of takes you away from playing the golf course. You have to play the man a little bit. Because he can hit it in the water and you play a little bit on the safe side, where it kind of moves away from a normal game plan. I enjoy it. I think you just have to really back yourself and see how many holes you can win.”
Grace faces world number one Dustin Johnson today. “It’s going to be good,” said Grace. “You know, if I keep doing the same things that did in the first match, ball-striking was a big key. I need to head to the putting green. I missed one or two little short ones. So if I can get that under control, I’ll be there.”
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