Justin Harding hopes Qatar Masters switch awon’t hurt chances to defend his title

Justin Harding the defending champion at the 2020 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters at Doha’s Education City Golf Club
Justin Harding, who produced five birdies on his back nine on Sunday to win last year’s Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, which moves to Education City GC, for his defence.

JUSTIN Harding hopes memories of his victory in Doha last year can fuel his challenge for more success at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters – which moves to a new venue this week.

The South African lifted his maiden European Tour title in dramatic fashion at last year’s event after some last day heroics saw him hold off a big chasing pack at Doha Golf Club.

Harding fired five birdies on the back nine – including at the 15th, 17th and 18th – to earn a two-shot victory from a group of nine players who tied for second.

Harding after playing a practice round recalled: “It was a pretty good day.

“I got off to a good start, lost my head a little bit on seven and eight, but looked at the leaderboard and nobody ever really seemed to be running away with it.

“There looked like a lot of guys that were there or thereabouts,” added Harding, who rose from 74th in the Official World Rankings that week to a career high of 42nd, but who is now down to 99th.

“I ended up birdieing 11 and 12, then again 15. When I parred 16 I thought that was a chance given away, but I hit a good shot and made a great putt on 17.

“And birdie on 18 was big because it meant guys had to make two coming in, added Harding, who needs a big week in his quest to move back into the world’s top 50 to secure his place in the USPGA Championship in May.

“It was a bad little 45-minute wait but nobody seemed to really post a score. I think there were nine guys tied for second so I was quite pleased to avoid a play-off.

“It was cool to have finally crossed the line and got a W. It is just a matter of trying to feed on the same sort of memories this week and see if we can defend it.

The 34-year-old won’t have the defending champion’s advantage of returning to the same course as the event moves across the Qatari capital for the first time in its 23-year history.

The action moves from Doha Golf Club to Jose Maria Olazabal’s Education City Golf Club – a landmark project for Qatar and the world of golf – which offers a “revolutionary” approach to growing the game.

Harding, who finished 12th on his Masters debut in 2019, added: “I played so many new courses last year it’s actually quite nice. You’ve almost got no bad memories, you’re playing fresh.

“It’s a nice little challenge. It means everyone is pretty much in the same boat,” said Justin Harding of the 7,307 yard, par-71 course, which features paspalum grass greens.

“It’s not like you’re playing against a bunch of guys that have a world of good memories and good things to bring out on their play.

“It’s just one of those where you’ve got to go out and play with what you have on the day and deal with what happens.

“It’s a good golf course. I’ve played nine holes and I think the wind’s going to blow. It’s going to make it challenging for scoring.

“You’ll probably find it’s not going to be 20-under par winning, it’s going to anywhere in between -12 and -15.

“I’m looking forward to going out, seeing if we can execute plans, make some birdies and see what happens.”

Justin Harding is joined in the field by former World No. 1 Martin Kaymer, the 2018 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters winner Eddie Pepperell, from Oxfordshire’s Frilford Heath, as well as last week’s Oman Open winner Sami Valimaki.

The latter picked up four wins on the German Pro Golf Tour last season – the same route Kaymer, who has won three times in Abu Dhabi during the Desert Swing since 2008, took to the European Challenge Tour in 2006.

Valimaki, who also won as an amateur on the Gecko Tour in Spain, was a 250-1 shot heading into just his sixth event last week at Oman’a Al Mouj Golf, which again attracted high praise as one of the best courses on the European Tour.

•For tee times in the first round of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, click here.

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