Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

Thomas Pieters builds on UAE promise with strong start to Saudi International

The Belgian holds two-shot lead after first round of the first European Tour event in Saudi Arabia

Thomas Pieters, right, is off to a flying start at the Saudi International. Getty 
Thomas Pieters, right, is off to a flying start at the Saudi International. Getty 

Thomas Pieters believes good form from playing in the UAE helped him get off to a flying start at the inaugural Saudi International after a first round seven-under 63 gave him a two-shot lead.

The Belgian finished 16th at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA two weeks ago and then was 29th at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic last weekend.

He certainly built on that momentum at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic Tour as the first European Tour event in Saudi Arabia got under way.

He did not drop a shot as he picked up seven birdies to build a small advantage, with Alfie Plant, Ross Fisher, Justin Harding, Jake McLeod and Renato Paratore all on five-under.

Pieters, 27, said: "I haven't clicked all the right parts together yet. 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."

The course is new to all the players and Pieters felt that he was rewarded for the good distances he was getting on his drives.

"I think everybody is hitting it far," he added. "It's warm. It's hot. The ball is traveling far. I definitely drove it well today, and obviously those ten, 15 extra metres can help sometimes."

Plant was among the quintet to card 65 and he was impressed with the challenges the par-70 course had to offer.

"You have to do well off the tee, and also, the greens are quite undulating," the Englishman said. "So you've got quite a lot of bowls out there which if you can get in them, you can certainly have a few birdies."

Joost Luiten, who was third in Abu Dhabi, was among the other players to start well as his four-under 66 left him in a share of eighth place.

The tournament has four of the world's top five players in the field, and the quartet all made steady starts.

World No 1 Justin Rose carded a level-par 70, as did Bryson DeChambeau (No 5), while Brooks Koepka (No 2) was one-under and Dustin Johnson (No 3) performed the best as his 68 left him on two-under.

Rose, who came into the competition on the back of victory at the Farmers Insurance Open in California last weekend, said that it had been his performances on the green that had cost him a better round.

"I certainly missed 10 putts probably within six to ten feet range," said the 38-year-old Englishman, who hit three birdies and three bogies in his round.

"You make half of those and it's a good round of golf. I gave myself plenty of chances and played well and really felt like I came out playing well.

"I got caught between clubs twice today and chose the wrong shot I think and ended up making bogey off both of those decisions."

Updated: January 31, 2019 05:46 PM

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