LONDON: Justin Rose knows exactly how he can get into contention at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club: Perfect his putting.
The World No. 1 lies seven shots back from leader Thomas Pieters who fired an impressive seven-under 65. Rose, who arrived in the Kingdom in dominant form having won the Farmers Insurance Open on Sunday, fired in three birdies and three bogeys to have an underwhelming first round.
But all too aware that a seven-shot deficit is no huge gap after just 18 holes the Englishman revealed that better play with the flat stick on the greens will be the key to him moving up the leaderboard today.
“(I) had the opportunity to hit a lot of shots close to the hole and couldn't make the putts,” Rose said.
“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.
“But 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. Gave myself plenty of chances and played well and really felt like I came out playing well.”
Such has been Rose’s form over the past 12 months the sight of him missing chances on the greens was a bit of a shock. But the slower greens at the Red Sea course, and the jet lag caused by his dash from California to the Middle East, both doubtless take getting used to — not that he was using that as an excuse.
For Pieters (above) the first-round lead was a welcome return to form. The Belgian leads by two from six rivals, including Ross Fisher and Alfie Plant (see below). By his high standards the 27-year-old has not recently been hitting the heights that saw him make his Ryder Cup debut in 2016 and enter the top 50 in the world rankings.
But the big-hitter fired a blemish-free 63 to set the early pace, and, as this is the first time an event has been played at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, a course record. Having done well in Abu Dhabi and Dubai — where he finished 16th and 29th — he is feeling confident he can stay ahead of the field in Saudi Arabia.
“I think I did everything pretty well today,” the world No. 76 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.”
TOUGH START FOR OTHMAN ALMULLA
Othman Almulla’s first round as a professional ended with the Saudi star carding a 10-over 80. Playing with Ernie Els and Andy Sullivan the 32-year-old was out in 42 before a better back nine of 38 saw him repair some of the earlier damage.