Mexico’s Abraham Ancer made an impressive start to the US$5 million PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers today shooting a first-round seven-under-par 63 to take the lead, here at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.
Columbian Sebastian Munoz returned a 64 while Spain’s Sergio Garcia, South African Louis Oosthuizen and Cameron Young from the United States shot 65s – in the star-studded opening event of the season on the Asian Tour, which features 12 Major winners and eight current Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) top-50 players.
Zimbabwe’s Scott Vincent, last year’s International Series Order of Merit winner, Sadom Kaewkanjana from Thailand and another Asian Tour regular Ian Snyman from South Africa came in with 66s.
Defending champion Harold Varner III from the United States started well with a 69, with a group of players tied 30th.
Ancer was in imperious form; he started on the 10th and made four birdies on the back nine, including three on the trot from hole 13, and then carded three ‘birds’ on the front side.
Said Ancer: “Obviously very happy. I felt like I was in control for the most part of the golf ball. Took advantage at the beginning where there was very little wind.
“And on the turn it [the wind] started pumping pretty good. Once it starts getting that way, you try to hold on, and being able to make a couple birdies coming in was definitely nice.”
The 31 year old, a professional for a decade, won the Australian Open 2018, and the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in 2021 and is looking for his third big win in the game.
His chances of success will be helped by the fact he has an impressive track record at Royal Greens, where he has played 15 times before and is 23 under par in total.
“I feel like you have to be very accurate. It’s a golf course you can get in a lot of trouble if you’re not in the fairway. I feel like you don’t necessarily have to hit it that far, but definitely being in the fairway is a premium. Like in the past I’ve been pretty good at keeping the ball in play. I think that’s the big key.”
This is the first time that Munoz, who was paired with Garcia and Vincent, has competed in the Saudi International and he hadn’t even seen the course in any shape or form before his arrival.
“It’s really good,” said Munoz, a winner on the PGA Tour in 2019 at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
“Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect. Never been here. Never seen photos of it. It’s beautiful. I liked it. The setup was nice, and the course was good.”
He also started on the back nine and went bogey free.
He added: “I felt like this morning it wasn’t blowing a lot, so it was there for the taking. I got myself a couple of birdie opportunities, and then on the front nine I played really good. So happy.”
Garcia, the winner of 36 titles globally, also enjoyed the slightly easier conditions at the start.
“It was actually calmer than I thought at the beginning,” said the 2017 Masters champion.
“Then obviously got windy like it always happens here. I think I made a great second shot on that first hole. I don’t know, I feel like I played well, gave myself a lot of good chances, a lot of good patience because on the front nine, which was 10 to 18 for me, I had some good opportunities that didn’t go in, good putts that didn’t go in. But I kept my patience, and then on the back nine I was able to make a couple of nice putts for birdie and a couple of decent saves. Very happy with the round.”
Vincent was delighted with his start considering it has been two months since his last tournament.
He said: “Yeah, it’s a fantastic start to the year. We’ve had, what, almost two months off, so to come back and try to get back into the routines and get some good practice in, you never quite know where the game’s going to be.
“But that’s irrelevant. You just come in and hit your routines, hit your balls, and today was great. We did a lot of things really well.”
The Zimbabwean was also buoyed by the fact that over the break he was able to take his baby girl Zoey home to Zimbabwe for the first time.
“It was nice to just have some good quality time with family. So that was just really good,” he added.
Thailand’s amateur star Ratchanon ‘TK” Chantananuwat once again revelled playing on the big stage and fired a 67.
American Dustin Johnson, winner of this event in 2019 and 2021, unfortunately had to withdraw ahead of the first round after tweaking his back.