Mexico’s Abraham Ancer added a four-under-par 66 to his opening 63 to keep his lead in the US$5 million PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers today at the halfway mark.
His tournament total of 11 under par at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, in Jeddah, is one better than American Cameron Young, who shot 65.
Australian Marc Leishman (64), Thailand’s Sadom Kaewkanjana (66) and Louis Oosthuizen (67) from South Africa are tied for third, three behind the leader, in the star-studded season-opening event on the Asian Tour.
Thailand’s amateur sensation Ratchanon ‘TK’ Chantananuwat carded a 66 and is a stroke further behind with Australian Lucas Herbert, who came in with a 65.
Ancer, aged 31, looks to be in complete control of his game and full of confidence ahead of the weekend.
He shot five birdies and made a bogey on 17 – his only dropped shot in two days.
“I’m very pleased the way I’ve been rolling it and hitting it off the tee,” said the Mexican.
“Also, my iron play has been pretty good, so I’m happy with my game. Having that bogey on 17 from a very scorable spot kind of burns a little bit and dropping the first shot of the tournament, but extremely happy with my play and the way my body feels, the way my swing feels. Yeah, extremely happy.”
Windy conditions for much of the day have made low scoring a challenge but the Mexican, whose biggest win to date is the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in 2021, has been able to comfortably master the conditions to this point.
He said: “You’ve just got to trust your starting lines out here, and I feel like the wind really moves the ball here, so you’ve got to trust it. You’ve got to trust that you’re going to be aiming pretty far away from the pin, and you’ve just got to hit a good shot at one little spot, pick your target and just flush one right at that.”
Young is playing here for the first time and went round bogey free, a commendable effort in the wind.
“Yeah, it’s been great. I think it’s been a lot of fun in the wind. We have to hit a bunch of shots, and I’ve played really nicely,” said Young, who impressed in the Majors last year, finishing second in the Open, and joint third in the PGA Championship.
“I’d say I think my iron play has been very good. I’ve driven it nicely, too, but I haven’t been in every fairway, but I think I’ve controlled my ball really well kind of into the greens and given myself probably more opportunities for birdie than most guys have had out here.”
Sadom, and Leishman, were able to make the most of this morning’s calm conditions.
Said Sadom: “I’m happy. Yesterday afternoon it was so windy, but I played solid. Today I’m happy to play in the morning in the second group. So, everything’s good. My tee shot, my iron, all good. I hope to do more tomorrow and the last days same as the first two days.”
The Thai is a two-time winner on the Asian Tour, the most significant being last year’s SMBC Singapore Open. In July last season he also brilliantly finished joint 11th in the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews, which is the best result by a Thai in the event.
“This year my distance is better than last year, so it’s easier for me to play the course because it’s longer than last year. So that is the key for me this week,” said the 24 year old.
Leishman holed his second on the par-four 10th for an eagle to help build the foundations of an impressive round.
“Yeah, really happy,” said Leishman.
“Yesterday to have two under in that weather was pretty pleasing. Then to come out this morning and to put a low one on the board in more benign conditions was pretty satisfying as well. Happy with the start.”
Fifteen-year-old amateur star Ratchanon is threatening to capture more headlines this week after another fine round, where he could have been even closer to the lead if not for dropped shots on 15 and 17.
He said: “I think one of the reasons I played really well today was — the past two days I had no expectations and not looking at the leaderboard, and ironically as soon as I started looking at the leaderboard on eight and when the cameras came, that’s when I started not being as sharp. I think I’m just going to try and shut myself off tomorrow, Sunday, as well, keep my head down.”
At last year’s Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup in Thailand on the Asian Tour he became the youngest male player to win on one of the game’s major Tours.
Defending champion Harold Varner III from the United States made a strong move carding a 66 and is six back from Ancer.
Malaysian rookie Ervin Chang, the recent recipient of the Kyi Hla Han Future Champions Programme Award, bravely birdied his final hole to finish right on the cut line, made at even par.