Defending champion Justin Harding is excited about facing a new challenge at Muthaiga GC as he makes his return to the Magical Kenya Open after clinching his second DP World Tour title 12 months ago.
The South African recorded four sub-70 rounds – 66-67-64-and a bogey free final round 66 – to finish two shots clear of American Kurt Kitayama at Karen Country Club last season, meaning his title defence will come at an unfamiliar venue.
Harding is relishing that challenge, and said memories of achieving last year’s victory has evoked good feelings ahead of his return.
“I just think winning the second event was a lot harder than the first,” said Harding as he reflected on last year’s win.
“The first win in Qatar came on the back of some good performances and I would never say it was expected, but I could maybe see something was happening.
“In the year prior to last year, I wasn’t playing well at all, so to get it over the line and have gotten the job done, it was emotional – good feelings.
“It’s exciting, you don’t always get the opportunity to defend but I’ve always played quite nicely here in Kenya albeit on the other course in Karen.
“From what I’ve seen so far this week, this golf course at Muthaiga is beautiful, in good nick. It’s different, you’ve got to work your way around it. It’s not straight-forward, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be nice, I’ve had a decent enough start to this year, my game’s in good place, so we’ll see what happens.”
Harding’s impressive record in this event goes further than just his victory last year, having finished joint second and a shot behind winner Guido Migliozzi of Italy when the event was first included on the DP World Tour schedule in 2019, following 26 editions as a Challenge Tour event between 1991 and 2018.
He puts it down to a love of Kenya, while also stating his belief that playing historic events like this are important to making him a well-rounded player.
“I love Kenya, for one the people are just super-friendly and hospitable. I think the crowds are always great, I’ve loved my time here. They’re very welcoming, they embrace the Kenya Open, it’s got a lot of rich history and it’s always a well-supported event. I haven’t had the opportunity to safari yet, so that’s still on the bucket list.
“It’s essential we come to places like this, I think it’s a big reason why DP World became the title sponsors of the tour. It’s within the culture of the tour that we get to go everywhere. We get to see everywhere – from Asia to Europe to Africa.
“I personally think if you’re playing this tour regularly, it’s going to give you a big kick forward in terms of being able to play on a lot of courses, grasses, fine-tune all aspects of your game."
And while this week may present Harding a new Kenyan challenge in Muthaiga, he arrives with plenty of confidence in his form following back-to-back top 10s at the Slync Dubai Desert Classic and Ras al Khaimah Championship.
“I’ve been playing pretty solid, just trying not to get off to bad starts early in the week and plod along and put yourself in a position to have a go over the weekend. Ideally I would have liked to get over the line on a couple of those recently, but having not done it just gives me more motivation to get it done the next time, and to just keep knocking on the door.”