Justin Harding picked up exactly where he left off at Karen Country Club as the South African carded a seven under par 64 to move into a share of the first round lead at the Kenya Savannah Classic supported by Absa, just two days after his triumph at the Magical Kenya Open presented by Absa.
The 35-year-old claimed his second European Tour title in Nairobi on Sunday, breaking the lowest winning score record at Kenya’s historic national open with a 21 under par total, and he equalled his lowest round of last week with an opening 64 in the second of the back-to-back tournaments at the same venue.
Harding has already won back-to-back events in his career, on the Sunshine Tour in 2018, and he will be looking to become the first player to win consecutive European Tour events since Justin Rose won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open in consecutive weeks in 2017.
Joost Luiten, meanwhile, drew on some fond memories of his very first Challenge Tour appearance at Karen Country Club, as he joined Harding – along with Spain’s Alejandro Cañizares and Frenchman Clément Sordet – at the top of the leaderboard.
Justin Harding: “It’s quite different, to be fair. We are playing the same golf course so my strategy stays the same – front foot forward and see if we can keep doing what we were doing last week. I played pretty good again, solid.
“I played here in 2019 as well. Then I wasn’t able, with technology, to knock it on the par fours. It’s changed a little bit. Then I play back and leave myself a wedge in my hand, I don’t like the draw off the tee, especially with the wind blowing off the left. Then a couple of the others set up nicely. On 15 I learned my lesson Friday afternoon, I hit one in the bush and I’ve hit three wood ever since. It’s the type of golf course where you don’t have to birdie every hole, but if you execute your plans you have a hell of a lot of birdie chances – so play the tough holes properly.
“It’s always easy when you’re playing well. Don’t ask me where it came from. I’m playing solid and finally rolling a couple of putts in. Ultimately just keeping it in play and trying to keep the bogeys off the card – there was a silly one on 16 but was happy enough to make a birdie on 17.”
Joost Luiten: “Seven under is a really good score around here. No bogeys on the card is always a good thing and seven birdies. I had a couple more chances but I’m very happy with seven under and it’s a good position for the rest of the week.
“I got an invite to play here 15 years ago on the Challenge Tour, from Daan Slooter who had a Challenge Tour event in the Netherlands so he had some invites and he gave me one. It was my first year as a pro and I finished tenth that week. That’s all that I can remember, I made a birdie down the last to finish tenth and that got me into the next tournament.
“I finished third in the next one and that got me into the next tournament and I won that one! For me, it was a perfect start to my Challenge Tour career. I got my chance with a wildcard invite and I took it. I have really good memories of this place.
“I’m really looking forward to the rest of the week. Hopefully I can just hit the ball as I did today and stay out of trouble and make sure to hole some putts and that’s always a good thing if you do that in golf.”
Alejandro Cañizares: “It was lovely. It’s been a long time since I put a score on the board. It started out really nicely, I played solid on the front nine then a couple of bogeys on the back nine but managed to make a long putt for eagle on six. Then an unforced error on seven and I bogeyed that hole, but finished with a nice birdie on the last. I’m really happy that the swing felt good, I was putting nicely and it was a good round to start.
“(On nine) it was straight downwind, a little off the right. With the driver you might catch the ground very firm and if you don’t hit the green you might go into the out of bounds. I hit three wood and tried to run it up the gap – it’s a narrow gap because you have trees on the left and right. I got a good lie on the left – missed a bit, but had a good lie. Hit a nice chip and had a three-footer for birdie.
“I was confident that my swing was in the right spot, it’s been a while since I felt that. It’s been a long time since the last tournament, my first tournament was Qatar and I was a little rusty. Last week I didn’t hit the ball that bad, I just made bad mistakes when I shouldn’t have. I had four double bogeys and missed the cut easily. It’s a great week, I’m playing good and feel confident with the way I’m hitting it and the way I’m putting. Who knows?”
Clément Sordet: “It was really good fun – last week was not great, I didn’t play my best but I practiced well yesterday and my game feels really good now. I just didn’t score well last week so it’s nice to score seven under today.
“It’s just about getting used to the grass, obviously it’s different grass to Europe but I think I shot nine under in the practice round for this event. It’s always nice to play well after a good practice round because obviously you want to score well in the tournament so it’s been great.
“On this course it’s key to score well from the sixth to the 12th and I was two under after three holes. So I was thinking I could shoot a good score but I was just thinking one shot at a time, not to worry about the score, and I managed to shoot seven under.”