Now it’s Mau­ri­tius as Hard­ing leads again

The Sunday Independent - - SPORT - MICHAEL VLISMAS

IT MAY be De­cem­ber but Justin Hard­ing isn’t done yet. The South African’s dream year is show­ing no sign of end­ing as he heads into to­day’s fi­nal round of the AfrA­sia Bank Mau­ri­tius Open at the Four Sea­sons Golf Club Mau­ri­tius at Anahita, tied for the lead with Amer­i­can Kurt Ki­tayama, and chas­ing a fifth ti­tle this sea­son.

Hard­ing, pic­tured, signed for a bo­gey-free 64 yes­ter­day to top the leader­board on 16 un­der par, and where he was joined by Ki­tayama af­ter his 70. They are three strokes clear of their near­est chal­lengers in Ja­pan’s Masahiro Kawa­mura, French­man Matthieu Pavon and In­dia’s Chikkarangappa S.

“I did my job. I put my­self in a de­cent po­si­tion to try and get the win,” said Hard­ing, who showed ex­actly the kind of mood he was in when he opened with five birdies in his first eight holes.

“I’m thrilled. That was with­out a doubt my best tour­na­ment round. I re­ally felt I played pretty good to­day. I had good con­trol, es­pe­cially for the first 13 holes. I felt like I could birdie ev­ery hole out there. I hit some close and felt like I could be a lit­tle more ag­gres­sive with the flags to­day. And then when it came to the putting I just felt like I had a good line on ev­ery­thing. It was a good day and I en­joyed it.”

Hard­ing is in the midst of the sea­son of his life hav­ing al­ready won four times, in­clud­ing twice on the Sun­shine Tour and twice on the Asian Tour. He cur­rently leads the Sun­shine Tour Or­der of Merit and is third on the Asian Tour equiv­a­lent, the Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Stand­ings. Shub­hankar Sharma, the man lead­ing the Asian Tour stand­ings, is not play­ing this week or in next week’s South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg, giv­ing Hard­ing a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to over­take the In­dian star, start­ing with a win this week­end.

“Hope­fully I can put a good round to­gether (to­day) and then see what hap­pens,” he said. “I en­joy lead­ing. I like the guys com­ing to me rather than hav­ing to chase. I’m look­ing for­ward to it.”

Ki­tayama, who led by two strokes go­ing into the third round, ad­mit­ted he felt some of the pres­sure of be­ing in a fi­nal group yes­ter­day.

“To­day played a lit­tle tougher. Be­ing in the last group added a lit­tle more pres­sure. I grinded it out. I just didn’t hit it as well as I did on the first two days.”

Hard­ing, though, feels he’s in a good space men­tally for the chal­lenge to come.

“It’s go­ing to be a beau­ti­ful day on the golf course, play­ing golf on an is­land, what more can you want?”

Mean­while, Tiger Woods avoided a penalty at the Hero World Chal­lenge on Fri­day af­ter rules of­fi­cials de­ter­mined that a dou­ble-hit was not vis­i­ble in real time.

Slow-mo­tion, high def­i­ni­tion tele­vi­sion re­plays showed Woods’ club mak­ing con­tact with the ball at least twice as he scooped it out of a bush on the fi­nal hole at Al­bany in the Ba­hamas. Un­der a rule im­ple­mented last year, how­ever, a penalty is not as­sessed if such an in­frac­tion is vis­i­ble only in slow mo­tion re­plays.

“In slow mo­tion I did hit it twice but in real time I didn’t feel that at all,” Woods told re­porters af­ter shoot­ing 69 to trail sec­ond-round lead­ers Jon Rahm and Hen­rik Sten­son by eight strokes.

Rules of­fi­cial Mark Rus­sell said the in­ci­dent had been re­viewed and that Woods, who dou­ble-bo­geyed the hole, was in the clear.

Had the in­ci­dent oc­curred be­fore April 2017, Woods would have re­ceived a one-stroke penalty.

That was when the game’s gov­ern­ing bodies, the US Golf As­so­ci­a­tion and the Royal & An­cient, changed a rule in re­sponse to im­prove­ments in video tech­nol­ogy that were lead­ing to penal­ties that in pre­vi­ous eras would have been avoided.

“If the com­mit­tee con­cludes that such facts could not rea­son­ably have been seen with the naked eye and the player was not oth­er­wise aware of the po­ten­tial breach, the player will be deemed not to have breached the rules, even when video tech­nol­ogy shows oth­er­wise,” the rule said.

From Jan­uary 1, when ma­jor re­vi­sions of the rule book will be im­ple­mented, there will be no penalty for ac­ci­den­tally hit­ting a ball more than once on a sin­gle stroke. | Reuters

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