11 April 2019: Justin Harding was a relatively unknown entity just last year. As the calendar turned into 2018, Harding was ranked 712 and there were no warnings of an impending storm. Since then though he racked up five victories, secured a card on the European Tour and finished third in the Asian Tour’s Habitat for Humanity standings. Another set of stirring results – victory in the Qatar Masters and three other top 10s this year have catapulted him from 85 into the top-50, helping him gain an invitation to the Masters. Harding made the most of that invite this morning with a thrilling round of golf to take the clubhouse lead at 3-under. Patton Kizzire and Lucas Bjerregaard were also at the same score, but were still on the course at the time of this report.
On a brilliant day for golf, with the Sun doing all it can to accentuate the spectacular setting at Augusta, Harding moved comfortably into the lead, riding on birdies at the 15th and 17th holes. Harding laid up with a nine-iron on the par-5 15th before travelling 104 yards toward the flag with his pitching wedge. He found the centre of the cup from seven feet to secure his birdie, the fourth of the round.
Harding added another birdie at the par-4 17th to move clear at the top. Earlier in the day, Harding made a positive start to his first ever round at the Masters, pocketing birdies at the second and third holes. At the par-4 fifth hole, Harding’s approach left him in the fringe about 19 yards to flag. He two-putted from twelve feet to cop the first bogey of the day.
But he made amends straight away, sailing 184 yards from the tee on the par-3 sixth hole, leaving himself a short putt for birdie.
“It was good fun; I thoroughly enjoyed it,” the 33-year-old South African said. “I handled the emotions of the day very well – better than I expected.”
“Just kind of worked my way in,” Harding said, noting that he made a par save despite having mud on his ball on No. 13. “Made a couple coming in and then, obviously, the bogey on 18 was a bit naughty, but I was seeing stars in that bunker – that bunker is bright.”
“I’m seeing a golf course for the first time almost every week,” Harding said, “so not taking any real demons, any bad shots or bad memories into them – helps, I suppose. But then again, I also watched the Masters a few times on TV, so you see what everybody gets up to.”
Patton Kizzire was three under at the bend, taking full advantage of the par-5s on the front nine. He made an eagle at the second hole and added a birdie at the eighth to put himself in a sweet spot.
Lucas Bjerregaard was two under through three holes, but a double bogey at the par-3 fourth hole wiped out those early gains. He worked his way back from there with tremendous grit, posting birdies at the 6th, 13th and 15th holes.
Corey Conners was in the clubhouse after posting a nicely done 70 playing in the first group on Thursday.