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Justin Harding holds off American to win on European Tour

Justin Harding wins 2021 Magical Kenya Open
Justin Harding wins the Magical Kenya Open on Sunday at Karen Country Club in Nairobi.

South African closes with bogey-free 66 to deny American Kurt Kitayama at the Magical Kenya Open

After having endured six months of uninspiring results, Justin Harding showed himself that he still knew how to win. That didn't surprise him as much as it moved him nearly to tears for the significance.

Harding, of South Africa, shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Sunday at Karen Country Club in Nairobi to hold off playing competitor Kurt Kitayama of the U.S. and win the European Tour's Magical Kenya Open. Harding finished at 21-under 263, two strokes ahead of Kitayama, who also closed with 66. Scotland’s Connor Syme (64) finished third at 17-under 267, followed by Spain’s Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez, who posted the low round of the day, a 63, to move into fourth at 268 (scores).

“It was hard work, but I’m happy with the way I played,” said Harding, who had to stop himself as his emotions started to well up behind the 18th green. “Just happy with the way I managed my game.

“I've been through a dip in form in terms of mixed results, and it was nice to get over the line this time around. Winning isn't everything, but I think being in the winner's circle again means a little more to me than I actually thought it did.”

Harding had not finished among the top 10 in 13 previous worldwide starts, dating to a T-3 at the Andalucia Masters in September. The stretch included five missed cuts and a withdrawal.

A two-time winner on the European Tour, Harding also won the 2019 Qatar Masters during a year in which he rose to a career-high No. 42 in the world ranking. He played in all four major championships that year, notably tying for 12th at the Masters. Harding, 35, also owns seven victories on the Sunshine Tour in his homeland and is a two-time winner on the Asian Tour. He played college golf in the U.S. at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.

Among the 18 Kenyans in the 156-man field, Samuel Njoroge Chege was the only home favorite to make the cut, finishing 77th at even-par 284.

The Magical Kenya Open was the first of two consecutive European Tour stops in the Kenyan capital. This week, the Kenya Savannah Classic will be played Tuesday through Friday, also at Karen Country Club.

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