BELEK – The $7-million Turkish Airlines Open is being played here and, fittingly, South Africa’s Justin Harding made a flying start to his second round by blitzing the Royal Maxx Montgomerie’s first nine in just 29 strokes.
“That’s my first sub-30 loop on the European Tour,” said the 33-year-old from Stellenbosch who birdied holes 3, 6, 7 and 8 and eagled the par-5 fourth which, in order to get up in two, the players face a long, intimidating approach over a broad expanse of water.
“In round one I made a bogey six there, when I found the drink with my second with a soft three-wood. Today I took three-iron, hit it to 25 foot and rolled in the putt,” said Harding who signed for a 65 and is on 10-under-par 134 for the tournament and just two off the lead of 132 held by young Austrian star Matthias Schwab. Belgium’s Thomas Detry, Sweden’s Alex Noren, and English pair Danny Willett and Ross Fisher are on 133, while Justin Rose, bidding to win this event for the third straight year, is alongside Harding on 134.
Harding, in describing his hot outward loop, this year’s Qatar Masters winner said: “I actually missed shortish birdies at one and two, then holed from just off the green for a birdie. Then, after the eagle, I hit it to 10 foot on six and rolled that one in, one foot on seven and tapped that in, and 25 foot on eight and made that too.
”So I was disappointed to miss a three-footer for par at 10. It was a naughty little bogey and my only one on the day. And I kind of cooled off on the back nine which I was quite cross about. I lost a bit of momentum and I had to walk along the tree-line and have a little chat with myself to get me focused again.”
This is Harding’s first full season the European Tour and he swings fast, walks fast, plays fast and looks incredibly relaxed on the course although he admits that he does always feel like that inside of himself. “After winning in Qatar early in the year my golf did take a bit of a dip in the last couple of months. But today was much better.
I swung it so well on the front and then grinded well coming in. The course is a bomber’s paradise which puts me at a bit of a disadvantage. There are five par-5s and a lot of the guys can hit all of them in two. I can only hit one in two so I have to rely on my short game.”
Another South African making progress Friday was Erik van Rooyen who birdied all the par-5s en route to a bogey-free 67 to be on 137.
Harding’s Qatar victory was his maiden win on the European Tour and Van Rooyen also broke through for the first time this year in the Scandinavian Invitation. He is 10th in the Race to Dubai so his season has been a lucrative one. His caddie, Alex Gaugert, was his teammate at college in America and they are good friends. “We have this bet about whether I can get to 10 bogey-free rounds this season and today was number six so I’m with a chance,” said the 29-year-old who has one of the sweetest swings in the business.
The other South Africans here are not in the running at this stage.
Zander Lombard did play well for 67 Friday but is on 140, George Coetzee and Richard Sterne are at 142, Christiaan Bezuidenout is on 146 and Justin Walters 148.