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Pieters takes two-shot lead as Saudi International superstar field stutters


Thomas Pieters. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)

Pre-tournament bluster over the European Tour’s maiden event in Saudi Arabia descended into sweet nothings, as the world’s best golfers got underway at Royal Greens & Country Club. Yet it was a name unburdened by a lofty appearance fee in Thomas Pieters, who capitalised on the still climate and sprung into an early lead, reports

Pieters has slipped to No 76 in the world rankings since making his Ryder Cup debut in 2016, but built on a strong finish in Abu Dhabi last week to card a bogey-free 63.“I haven’t clicked all the right parts together yet,” Pieters said afterwards. “I hit it great in Abu Dhabi and lost a bit of the putting there on the weekend.

“I think if I can just keep doing what I’m doing, and one of these weeks, the putts will drop and hopefully have another good result.”“It’s warm. It’s hot. The ball is travelling far. I definitely drove it well today, and obviously, those ten, 15 extra metres can help sometimes.”
Scrutiny centred on the well-imbursed superstar contingent lured to the event in Saudi Arabia, including world No 1 Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, but the clique failed to catch fire in the arid conditions.

Johnson and DeChambeau are five-shots back on two-under-par, Koepka made a strong start but stuttered on the back-nine, slipping to a one-under-par 69, while Rose laboured to a level-par 70.“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.”Pieters is closely followed by a pack on five-under-par, including South African Plant, who birdied seven of the first nine holes before coming to a standstill at the turn, while Ross Fisher is also lurking alongside.

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Thomas Pieters
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