KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia — At a low ebb after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to start his season, David Horsey phoned a friend for some help on the eve of his first round at the Saudi International.
The advice worked wonders for the 282nd-ranked golfer on Thursday.
Horsey upstaged what will likely be the strongest field in a European Tour event all year, shooting a course record-tying 9-under 61 in a round featuring seven birdies in an eight-hole stretch on the back nine.
The Englishman got to the par-5 18th hole needing an eagle for only the second ever 59 in the tour’s history but couldn't reach the green in two, and wound up with a par to tie Dustin Johnson’s leading score from 2019.
“It’s a shock, actually,” Horsey said. “I’ve been playing rubbish the last couple weeks.
“Sort of had a conversation with a pal back home last night, talking a few things through, and (he) suggested something that I work on away from the tournament. I thought, ‘Well, can’t get any worse, so I may as well try it,’ and here we are.”
The advice — given by a 22-year-old club pro whom Horsey has been mentoring back in England — was “about how my body is moving,” Horsey said.
“It’s nice to have a feel you can wake up and pick it up straight away,” said Horsey, who is seeking his fifth win on the European Tour and first since 2015.
The No. 1-ranked Johnson, winner of the inaugural Saudi International two years ago, is one of four top-10 players at the tournament and opened with a bogey-free 67 to be six shots off the lead.
Johnson also placed second last year.
Another big hitter from the United States, No. 8-ranked Bryson DeChambeau, said he reined in his distance off the tee because he was spraying his drives and shot 65.
“It’s just more my body isn’t feeling 100% from the travel over,” DeChambeau said. “I haven’t been able to work out the way I wanted to.
“Once you start hitting it wayward, my brain just kind of retracts to not wanting to swing as fast.”
DeChambeau was in a six-way tie for fourth on 5 under, with Li Haotong of China — the runner-up to Johnson in 2019 — in that group.
Stephen Gallacher birdied five of his last six holes for a 62 and was one shot behind Horsey. A further stroke back, in outright third place, was Bernd Wiesberger after a bogey-free 64.
After a calm morning at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, the wind picked up and made for much tougher playing conditions for the afternoon starters. They included Patrick Reed, who shot 69 coming off a win at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines that saw him at the centre of a rule controversy.
Paul Casey, who also won Sunday at the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour, followed Reed in shooting 69.
The Saudi International is the last of three events in the “Gulf Swing” that begins the 2021 season on the European Tour.
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