JEDDAH: Mexico’s Abraham Ancer made an impressive start to the $5 million PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers on Thursday, shooting a first-round 7-under-par 63 to take the clubhouse lead at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.
Colombian Sebastian Munoz returned a 64 to hold second place, while Spain’s Sergio Garcia, South African Louis Oosthuizen and Cameron Young from the US shot 65s to sit in a tie for third in the star-studded opening event of the Asian Tour season, which features 12 Major winners.
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 along with three additional birdies on his back nine.
Ancer said: “Obviously very happy. I felt like I was in control of the golf ball for the most part. Took advantage at the beginning when there was very little wind.
“On the turn it started pumping pretty good. Once it starts getting that way, you try to hold on, and being able to make a couple of birdies coming in was definitely nice.”
The 31-year-old is looking for his third professional win after success at the 2018 Australian Open and the 2021 WGC-Fedex St. Jude Invitational in 2021. His chances of victory 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.
Unlike Ancer, it was Munoz’s first time competing in the Saudi International, and the Colombian went in with a blank slate.
“It’s really good,” said Munoz. “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.”
Garcia, the 2017 Masters champion, also made the most of the easier conditions in the morning. “It was actually calmer than I thought at the beginning,” he said.
“Then obviously it got windy like it always happens here. 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.”
In the blustery afternoon conditions, Americans Patrick Reed and Jason Kokrak led the way with matching 3-under-par rounds.
After a slow start on the front nine, Reed came home with four birdies and no blemishes on the back nine to sit in a tie for ninth after the first round. The Major champion said after the round: “It was just really windy out there, and early on I didn’t really get that comfortable.
“I just really didn’t make any putts on the front nine. Had two three-putts and turned at 1-over par, and then on the back nine I just kept hitting the ball solid and gave myself more opportunities and made the putts when I needed to.”
It was an important day for golf in Saudi Arabia, with two of the country’s top amateurs playing their first rounds as professionals, marking their transition to the professional ranks at their home tournament and the flagship Asian Tour event.
Faisal Salhab, 2-over-par Thursday, and Saud Al-Sharif, 9-over-par, became the second and third Saudi professionals, joining compatriot and friend Othman Almulla.
Salhab, who has placed himself in a strong position to make the cut tomorrow, said after his round with David Puig and Justin Harding: “Today was a very special day for me. I’m happy with my birdies and I’ll try to replicate that tomorrow, but at the same time make sure to avoid the mistakes I’ve done along the way.”