Thomas Pieters takes advantage of conditions with stunning 63
Belgian golfer leads by two after first round of inaugural Saudi International
Dustin Johnson drives from the 17th tee during the first round of the Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Former Ryder Cup star Thomas Pieters took advantage of benign morning conditions to lead the field after the opening round of the inaugural Saudi International.
Pieters, who won a record four points on his debut at Hazeltine in 2016, carded a seven-under-par 63 at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club to finish two shots clear of a six-strong group which includes the English duo of Alfie Plant and Ross Fisher.
World number one Justin Rose is seven shots off the pace after an opening 70, with three-time Major winner Brooks Koepka a shot better off and world number three Dustin Johnson on two under following a 68.
Ireland’s Paul Dunne carded a two-under 68 for a share of 31st position after the earlier day, his round including four birdies and two bogeys.
“I hit my wedges and short irons really close to the hole,” said Pieters, who partnered Thomas Detry to a World Cup victory for Belgium in November. “I think I had maybe 10 good chances for birdie and made seven of them. It was a very good day on the greens, as well.
“If you play in the morning you’re going to have to make a good score. It needs some wind, and with wind, they can tuck the pins away pretty good here. The last eight, nine holes we got a bit of wind, but maybe half a club wind, so it’s not that much.”
Plant, who won the silver medal as leading amateur in the Open in 2017, made the most of receiving an invite to the €3 million event by starting from the 10th and racing to the turn in just 28 before dropping two shots on the inward nine.
“I didn’t realise I was on 28 until I’ve just come in,” the 26-year-old said. “I’ve never shot 28 before, on the front nine or back nine.”
Rose, who came into the week on the back of claiming a 10th PGA Tour title in San Diego on Sunday, blamed a poor day on the greens for an opening round containing three birdies and three bogeys.
“We had it calm this morning and knew tomorrow afternoon obviously the wind is going to pick up, so you had to take advantage of the golf course this morning,” Rose said.
“I had the opportunity to hit a lot of shots close to the hole and couldn’t make the putts.
“Collectively our group was probably the worst putting round I’ve seen for three professional golfers in a long, long time, but the greens were very tricky, very, very grainy. It was tough to factor it in, really, I think.
“I certainly missed 10 putts probably within six to 10 feet range. You make half of those and it’s a good round of golf.”
World number five Bryson DeChambeau, who won by seven shots in Dubai at the weekend, kept his hopes of back-to-back wins alive with a first round of 68.
(at Royal Greens G&CC, Saudi Arabia. Britain and Ireland unless stated, par 70, (a) denotes amateur)
63 Thomas Pieters (Bel)
65 Justin Harding (Rsa), Ross Fisher, Jake McLeod (Aus), Zander Lombard (Rsa), Alfie Plant, Renato Paratore (Ita)
66 Joost Luiten (Ned), Shaun Norris (Rsa), Matteo Manassero (Ita), Jorge Campillo (Esp), Chris Paisley, Pablo Larrazabal (Esp), Victor Perez (Fra), Justin Walters(Rsa), Richard Sterne (Rsa)
67 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Ryan Fox (Nzl), Ashun Wu (Chn), Matthew Southgate, Romain Langasque (Fra), (a) Rayhan Thomas (Ind), Scott Jamieson, Haotong Li (Chn), Joachim B Hansen (Den), Fabrizio Zanotti (Pry), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Lorenzo Gagli (Ita), Bradley Dredge, Patrick Reed (USA)
68 Richie Ramsay, Niklas Lemke (Swe), Haydn Porteous (Rsa), Mikko Korhonen (Fin), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Esp), Robert Karlsson (Swe), Dustin Johnson (USA), Sam Horsfield, Paul Dunne, Bryson DeChambeau (USA), Ian Poulter, Gaganjeet Bhullar (Ind), Gavin Green (Mal), Thomas Detry (Bel), Henrik Stenson (Swe)
69 Maximilian Kieffer (Ger), Aaron Rai, Robert Rock, Jeff Winther (Den), Robert Macintyre, Alejandro Canizares (Esp), Adrian Otaegui (Esp), Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Lee Westwood, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Paul Waring, Ashley Chesters, Matthias Schwab (Aut), Brooks Koepka (USA), Romain Wattel (Fra), Sergio Garcia (Esp), Jordan Smith, Jens Dantorp (Swe), Alexander Levy (Fra), Min Woo Lee (Aus)
70 David Law, Jack Singh Brar, Hyo-won Park (Kor), Scott Hend (Aus), Justin Rose, Ernie Els (Rsa), Adri Arnaus (Esp), Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel), George Coetzee (Rsa), Hideto Tanihara (Jpn), Andy Sullivan, Liam Johnston, Stephen Gallacher, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Bernd Ritthammer (Ger), Nino Bertasio (Ita)
71 Kurt Kitayama (USA), Clement Sordet (Fra), Grant Forrest, Jacques Kruyswijk (Rsa), Dean Burmester (Rsa), Todd Clements, Tapio Pulkkanen (Fin), David Drysdale, Tom Lewis, Jeunghun Wang (Kor), Andrea Pavan (Ita), David Lipsky (USA), Eddie Pepperell, Sam Brazel (Aus), Yusaku Miyazato (Jpn)
72 Soren Kjeldsen (Den), David Howell, Alvaro Quiros (Esp), Victor Dubuisson (Fra), Sebastian Soderberg (Swe), Trevor Immelman (Rsa), Pedro Figueiredo (Por), Nacho Elvira (Esp), Sean Crocker (USA), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Benjamin Hebert (Fra)
73 Matthew Jordan, David Horsey, Pelle Edberg (Swe), Stuart Manley, Raphael Jacquelin (Fra), Oliver Fisher, Thomas Bjorn (Den), Andres Romero (Arg), Shergo Alb Kurdi (a) (Jor), Wade Ormsby (Aus)
74 Matt Wallace, Brandon Stone (Rsa), Joakim Lagergren (Swe), Lee Slattery
75 Steven Brown, Kalle Samooja (Fin), James Morrison
76 Ivan Cantero Gutierrez (Esp)
77 Shubhankar Sharma (Ind), Matthieu Pavon (Fra), Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa)
79 Saud Al Sharif (a) (Sau)
80 Othman Al Mulla (Sau), Kim Koivu (Fin)
83 Abdulrahma Al Mansour (a) (Sau)