CHON BURI - RED-HOT Justin Harding of South Africa showed mental toughness to hold off the chasing pack by six strokes and become the first player to win his first two Asian Tour events, at the US$500,000 Royal Cup at the Phoenix Gold Golf and Country Club on Sunday.
The current Order of Merit leader on the South African sunshine Tour overcame a few hiccups to fire seven birdies against a bogey and a double bogey on the 13th for a final 67 and a total 14-under-par 266. He made his Tour debut 15 days ago in the Indonesia Open and ended up winning.
“It’s been a good little run, I can’t really put it into words right now. Two weeks ago was a surprise, but obviously I’ve been playing nicely. To win in Indonesia was pretty awesome and to double that this week is very really special,” said Harding who took home US$90,000 as winner.
HARDING AND SHIV KAPUR
“I had my eyes on the leader’s board the whole time and saw the guys catching up. But it just pushed me to want to do better. I had a couple of hiccups, like hole 13 I hit a poor shot, that made it a bit interesting but I held my composure and made a great birdie on 15 which was a tough hole.”
Harding has been in formidable form, winning two events on the Sunshine Tour in May before his trip to Asia. He earned the nickname Hack in his youth for his habit of missing the greens. “It’s the term that I enjoy but I make more money when I don’t hack,” he quipped.
Harding’s win meant Thailand failed to make a clean sweep of home international events after three tournaments dominated by locals: Panuphol Pittayarat (Asian Tour Thailand Open in May), Kanyaluck Preedasuttijit (Ladies European Thailand Championship in June) and Jazz Janewattananond (Asian Tour Queen’s Cup in June).
But the Kingdom could take solace that Chapchai Nirat, propelled by an eagle on the 11th, shot 68 to land in second on 272 along with defending champion Shiv Kapur of India (71), Australian Jake McLeod (67) and American-Japanese Kurt Kitayama (67).
“I didn’t expect anything until I got that eagle but the gap between the leader and me was too big [to close]. Overall I’m quite happy with my result this week as I’ve never played well at this course,” said the 35-year-old Chapchai who missed the cut here in the Queen’s Cup last month.
Second place is Chapchai’s best result in almost two years after he won Thongchai Jaidee Foundation in Hua Hin, in December 2016. Once a promising player on the Asian Tour with four titles to his credit, Chapchai lost his momentum when he adjusted to the narrow fairways on the Japan Tour, which affected his swing.
“I was quite down during 2016-17 when I played on the Japan Tour. My swing changed. But with advice from my coach Lakchai [Thongsripong] things are getting better. We’ve agreed that the name Chapchai would catch attention again,” said the Thai, who has posted three top five finishes this year including the Thailand Open (lone fifth) and Indonesia Open (tied third). He and the three runners-up took home US$33,000 each.