KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: Thomas Pieters leads the way in a world-class field at the inaugural Saudi International powered by SBIA after carding an opening round of seven-under-par.
The three-time European Tour winner recorded seven birdies in a blemish-free first round at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club to hold a two-shot advantage over a group of players, including English duo Ross Fisher and Alfie Plant.
Plant was on course for a 59 when he registered seven birdies in his opening nine holes to reach the turn in a magnificent 28, but two bogeys on the front nine derailed his chances of the monumental feat.
Four of the world’s top five players are playing at the course within King Abdullah Economic City, with Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Trevor Immelman among the eight Major Champions also in the field.
World Number One Justin Rose finished his first round at level par while World Number Two and playing partner Brooks Koepka saw a promising start fade as he signed for a one-under-par 69. Swede Henrik Stenson enjoyed the best round of the stellar group at two under.
Plant, who was invited to the event in Saudi Arabia, spoke about his incredible opening nine holes at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.
“It’s a good start,” he said. “Pretty much flagged it all the way on the front nine, which is nice. I always thought the front nine was a little bit more challenging. You’ve got to hit a lot more good shots.
“I didn’t realize I was on 28 until I’ve just come in. I’ve never shot 28 before on the front nine or back nine.”
Starting on the back nine, Belgian Pieters hit three birdies to reach the turn in 32 but moved to four under at the first with his fourth gain of the round, to sit one shot behind Plant.
He almost took sole lead at the fourth when his eagle putt stopped marginally short of the cup for a tap-in birdie, but the 27-year-old only had to wait one more hole to do so following a great approach to six feet.
Pieters increased his advantage to two strokes, despite his tee-shot at the seventh finding the rough, as he hit a superb second to concessional range for his seventh birdie of the round to set the clubhouse target.