January 31, 2019 / 4:05 PM / 6 months ago

Golf: Pieters grabs early lead at Saudi International

FILE PHOTO: Golf - European Tour - Alfred Dunhill Links Championship - Kingsbarns, Britain - October 4, 2018 Belgium's Thomas Pieters during the first round Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith

(Reuters) - Belgian Thomas Pieters struck a flawless seven-under-par 63 to carve out a two-shot lead after the opening round of the inaugural Saudi International in King Abdullah Economic City on Thursday.

Starting on the back nine, the three-times European Tour winner made birdies on the 12th and 13th holes and another on the 17th to turn in 32, before adding four more birdies on the front nine.

“I hit my wedges and short irons really close to the hole,” Pieters said. “I think I had maybe 10 good chances for birdie and made seven of them.

“I thought with the wind it’s going to play quite easy. If you play in the morning, you’re going to have to make a good score.”

Englishmen Alfie Plant and Ross Fisher and South African duo Zander Lombard and Justin Harding were in a group of six players tied for second, alongside Australian Jake McLeod and Italy’s Renato Paratore.

Plant scorched the back nine with seven birdies to turn in 28, but slipped back after carding bogeys on the par-four sixth and ninth holes.

“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.”

World number one Justin Rose finished at par in a tie for 65th place after making three birdies and three bogeys, with American Brooks Koepka, the world number two, a shot ahead on 69 in a group that included former U.S. Masters champion Sergio Garcia.

World number three Dustin Johnson edged ahead of Rose and Koepka after signing for a two-under 68 to sit alongside fellow American Bryson DeChambeau, last week’s Dubai Desert Classic champion, and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson in a group tied for 31st place.

Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond

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