Justin Harding holds off Kurt Kitayama to win the Kenya Open

Justin Harding four strokes ahead of the turn to secure an impressive victory in the Kenya Open. Gaganjeet Bhullar saved his best to the last, producing a 65 to secure a top twenty finish.

Justin Harding - European Tour

21 March 2021: Composure was key that Justin Harding unlocked on Sunday to secure his second title on the European Tour. The South African played with great control to remain firmly ahead of his prolific competitors in the final round. Kurt Kitayama was the closest, but a bogey on the 11th meant that he was constantly giving the chase to an unrelenting Harding. In the end the golfer from Stellenbosch steered himself to a convincing victory, two strokes ahead of the American. Gaganjeet Bhullar has been in good nick and is making the most of it. After earning a tantalisingly close second place finish in the Doha Open, the Indian settled for T17 this week.

Justin Harding - Kenya Open - European Tour
Justin Harding – Kenya Open – European Tour

Harding shot an impressive 66 in the final round to ensure victory. He got most of the work done at the bend, posting back to back birdies at the 6th & 7th holes before consolidating his position with an eagle at the par-5 ninth hole. Even as Kitayama kept up the pressure, Harding remained unfazed, making seven straight pars as he inched ever closer to the title. A birdie at the 17th meant that even though Kitayama also shot one, the gap remained two strokes at the 72nd tee.

“I went through such a good run in 2019 when it felt like I never actually played badly,” Harding said. “Getting over the line in Qatar was, it sounds a bit strange now, but it was almost like something that was going to happen.

“I’ve been through a dip in form in terms of mixed results and it was nice to get over the line this time around. Winning isn’t everything but I think being in the winner’s circle again means a little more to me than I actually thought it did.

“Ultimately, I just hope that I can kick on and it would be nice if I could go on a run like I did in 2018/2019 but who knows? Maybe I do it, maybe I don’t. We’ve just got to keep giving ourselves some chances.

“I’m just happy with the way I managed my game. I made a mess of 11 and 12 and ultimately the way I played 13 through 18 this week, it was a bit of a stressful time. I executed some shots and managed to make a couple of good par saves.”

Kitayama and Harding made 66 each, providing for an exciting final round contest at the Karen Country Club in Nairobi. Harding finished the week at 21-under 263, with Kitayama at 275. Connor Syme shot a 64 to secure third place, two strokes behind the American in second. Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez gained 13 spots to fourth place with a 63, the lowest round on Sunday. Jacques Kruyswijk (64), Romaine Langasque (65) and Jean_Baptiste Gonnet (67) rounded off the top five.

Bhullar started the week with a 66, well inside the top ten at the end of the first round. But rough conditions and patchy golf cost him a shade on Friday, as he slipped outside the top 30 with a 72. Bhullar bounced back from there with a measured 69 on Saturday.

On Sunday, Bhullar got off the blocks with a huge swing up the order. He made a birdie at the eleventh before gaining two more strokes with an eagle on the next hole. Six pars brought him past the turn in just 33 strokes and a birdie at the first suggested a steeper climb remained his aspiration.

The par-4 third hole though extracted the lone bogey on his card, negating he birdie at the first. The third hole also cost Bhullar a stroke on Saturday. Not to be undone by a momentary lapse, Bhullar came home in a blaze. He shot three birdies in the last four holes to ride inside the top twenty for a second straight week of relative success on the European Tour.

The Tour will remain in Kenya for the Savannah Classic next week. The Kenya Open was marred by broadcasting challenges and fans will hope that the productions team can overcome some of those issues and bring them closer to the spectacle beginning Thursday.