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Harding has Sun City experience on his side

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The other South African “rookie” in the field is Zander Lombard, in it courtesy of him topping last season’s Sunshine Tour Order of Merit

It will all feel a little strange for Justin Harding when he steps onto the first tee at Gary Player Country Club for the opening round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge today. Or will it?

It will be Harding’s first time playing in “Africa’s Major” , and although the thrill of the first tee will certainly play on his nerves as he heads out in the company of Ian Poulter and Romain Langasque, he will certainly feel a little less apprehensive than some of the other South African first-timers in the field.

Part of the reason is that he has had plenty of experience around Gary Player Country Club, and, in his last outing there, the 2018 Sun City Challenge, he pulled off a sixth-place finish.

So, while the magnitude of the occasion might be considerably bigger, he should settle quickly into his work after a couple of tournaments in which he would have wished to have played better.

His last top 10 on the European Tour came in October when he finished seventh at the Open de Espana, but it was the first three rounds of the Turkish Airlines Open last week that would have given him a sense of confidence coming into a tournament every South African professional wants to win.

He is currently 22nd on the Race to Dubai standings, and with only the season-ending DP World Tour Championship to come, a good performance this week and again next week will help him head back towards the world’s top 50, up from his current place of 66th.

Another South African debutant will be off soon after Harding, as Christiaan Bezuidenhout heads out with 2017 champion and countryman Branden Grace and Frenchman Benjamin Hebert.

While Bezuidenhout doesn’t have the Sun City experience that Harding does, he is in 17th spot on the Race to Dubai standings, and, with a world ranking of 100th, he is on the rise.

He was solid enough in Turkey last week, but he knows he can finish the European season with a bang.

The other South African “rookie” in the field is Zander Lombard, in it courtesy of him topping last season’s Sunshine Tour Order of Merit.

He will be last off today in the company of the Alvaro Quiron of Spain and England’s Steven Brown. He is 76th on the Race to Dubai standings, and, if he is to play any further part in the end of the European Tour season, he will need a good finish at Sun City.

For the three first-timers, there’s much to play for, and, with enough experience of the challenge posed by the Gary Play Country Club layout, a lot will depend on how quickly they adapt to the pressurised environment of playing in front of thousands of home fans who will be expecting nothing less than victory for a South African.