Thomas Pieters hit the front on day one of the Saudi International, carding a seven-under 63 to lead by two at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.
Four of the top five in the world rankings – including last week’s Dubai Desert Classic champion Bryson DeChambeau – are part of a world-class field in Saudi Arabia.
Yet it was world number 76 Pieters who made the early running on Thursday, courtesy of a bogey-free round that put him two clear of half a dozen players at five under.
Alfie Plant, Ross Fisher, Justin Harding, Jake McLeod, Zander Lombard and Renato Paratore were the six men to shoot 65.
Leader by two, @Thomas_Pieters #SaudiIntlGolf pic.twitter.com/Yiegr9cloB
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 31, 2019
Plant looked set to achieve something spectacular when he birdied seven of his first nine holes after starting on the 10th. However, he could not pick up another shot and recorded bogeys on the sixth and ninth.
DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson each opened up with two-under 68s, with Brooks Koepka one shot worse off and Justin Rose a further stroke back at even par.
Koepka can replace Rose at the top of the rankings this week, while the additional presence of Johnson means all of the world’s top three are playing in a standard European Tour event – not including majors and World Golf Championships – for the first time since the 2012 BMW PGA Championship. At that time, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood were first, second and third.