Justin Harding birdied three of his last four holes to claim his first European Tour title at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters by two strokes.
The 33-year-old may have just claimed his maiden victory on the European Tour, but it was far from a familiar feeling for Harding, whose win at Doha Golf Club was his fifth win in the last nine months.
He’s been a seriel winner on both the Asian and Sunshine Tours, and the South African bested a packed leaderboard with a final round six-under 66 to earn his first title on the European Tour after 54 starts.
“It’s fantastic,” said Harding. “It’s still sinking in. I didn’t quite think it was enough, I thought there might be a play-off but I’m happy to get over the line eventually. I’ve been knocking on the door a little recently. It’s rewarding seeing the hard graft and change in mindset – seeing what’s involved and what’s going on. I’m really happy.”
He began the day as part of a pack of players that sat three shots adrift of overnight leader Oliver Wilson, but he quickly moved up in to a group at 10-under with three birdies in his first four holes.
From there a couple of bogeys on six and seven would see him drop back to eight under, and it was Jinho Choi who emerged as the very early clubhouse leader at 11-under, leaving Harding with a lot of ground to make up.
He stayed patient as the leaderboard continued to change, making birdies on the 10th and 12th holes to get back to within a shot of the lead. But it was over the final four holes that Harding made it count, posting back to back birdies on 15 and 16 before holing out from five-feet on the 18th to set the clubhouse target at 13-under-par.
With a few holes to go only Nacho Elvira and Oliver Wilson had a chance to catch Harding, but despite final hole bogeys both men would finish in a European Tour record nine-way tie for second place. They joined Choi, Erik Van Rooyen, George Coetzee, Christian Bezuidenhout, Jorge Campillo, Anton Karlsson, and Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
“I had to stay patient,” said Haring. “I got off to a good start, made a couple of birdies and lost my head around the turn. My caddie Alan said we’re still in it and to make a couple on the back. I managed to keep myself in it and made a couple. I birdied 17 and 18, which was huge. I didn’t think 13 was clear, I thought there would be a play-off with how scores were looking on the back nine, but I’m happy to get over the line.
“It was nerve wracking, especially coming off, it’s a situation I haven’t really been in. I didn’t enjoy it but it’s good fun, I’m glad it happened and now we move on.”
As for the future, it only looks bright for Harding. He will move to World No.51, just one place outside automatic qualification for the Masters.
“I get into the events that I’d like to be into again, the schedules change, I’m no longer having to pick and choose,” said Harding about the benefits of his victory. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens going forward and playing in some bigger events.”
The 33 year old was one of 15 golfers who started the day three strokes behind 54-hole leader Oliver Wilson, but he made a fast start to the day with three birdies on his first four holes.
Harding then dropped two strokes after bogeys on the sixth and seventh holes, losing ground on clubhouse leader Jinho Choi, who set the early target of 11 under par after a blistering round of 64 – eight under par – at Doha Golf Club.
The South African quickly made amends after the turn with birdies on the tenth and 12th holes as he moved back to ten under par. He then birdied three of his last four holes, including consecutive gains on the 17th and 18th, to sign for a six under par 66 and a 13 under par total.
Harding joins Ernie Els, Darren Fichardt, Retief Goosen and Branden Grace as South African winners of the Mother of Pearl trophy.