European Tour Release, 10 March 2019: Justin Harding birdied three of his last four holes to claim a first European Tour win at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. Gaganjeet Bhullar shot 68 in the final round to end the week at T31.
The South African arrived at Doha Golf Club without full playing privileges after finishing third on last season’s Asian Tour but now has his breakthrough in his 54th European Tour start.
Harding made three early birdies to share the lead but his chance looked to have gone as he made two bogeys and South Korea’s Jinho Choi signed for a brilliant 64 to set the clubhouse target at 11 under.
Birdies on the tenth and 12th put him back in contention and further gains on the 15th, 17th and 18th handed him a two shot lead at 13 under after a 66.
He faced a nervous wait as the final groups finished up but nobody could catch him, with countrymen Christiaan Bezuidenhout, George Coetzee and Erik van Rooyen, Spaniards Jorge Campillo and Nacho Elvira, Swede Anton Karlsson, Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera, England’s Oliver Wilson and Choi in a European Tour record nine way tie for second.
The victory is a fifth in nine months and four different countries worldwide for the 33-year-old after he claimed back-to-back Sunshine Tour wins in May and repeated the feat on the Asian Tour in July.
He becomes the fifth South African winner of this event after Darren Fichardt, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Branden Grace – who successfully defended the Mother of Pearl trophy in 2016.
“It feels good,” said Harding, who had two top fives and three further top 20s from eight events coming into this week.
“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.
“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. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens going forward and playing in some bigger events.”
Harding birdied the par five first for the fourth time this week and added further gains on the third and fourth to share the lead.
It was a very congested leaderboard, however, and birdies on the sixth and seventh dropped him back as Choi surged through the field.
Starting the day seven shots off the lead, the 34-year-old birdied the first, second, third, eighth and ninth to turn in 31 and another gain on the 12th had him in touch.
He then just missed the green on the driveable 16th but holed a huge putt for an eagle to take the lead before missing a good birdie chance on the last.
Karlsson had made birdies from 30 and three feet on the first and seventh and he took advantage of the par five tenth to share the lead, with Elvira also birdieing the tenth to add to a gain after getting up and down from the sand on the first.
Harding was another man to make the most of the tenth and when he holed from the fringe on the 12th and hit a brilliant second from the rough to four feet on the 15th, it was a four way tie.
A brilliant 25 foot putt that was downhill and downwind on the 12th edged Elvira ahead but Harding holed from just off the back of the 17th green and Elvira found sand off the 13th tee for a two shot swing.
Harding got down in two from the front of the green on the par five 18th and it was left to the rest to chase him down.
Karlsson dropped shots on the 13th and 14th but recovered on the 16th and last, while Elvira bogeyed the 17th but birdied the next.
Coetzee eagled the last for a 68 that made it five top tens at this event, with Bezuidenhout and Campillo also recording four under par rounds.
Karlsson signed for a 69, Elvira, Lorenzo-Vera and Van Rooyen went round in 70, and overnight leader Wilson finished with a 71.
Belgian Thomas Detry, England’s Andy Sullivan and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti were ten under.