Defending champion Dustin Johnson eyes more Saudi millions as Manassero takes surprise lead

DJ shot a 65 in the first round of the PIF Saudi International but most of the big names were overshadowed by a brilliant display from Italy’s Matteo Manassero.

Dustin Johnson let his clubs do the talking on Thursday as he continued his love affair with Royal Greens Golf Club by shooting a 5-under 65 on day one of the Saudi International.

Most of the chatter this week is about how much cash is being dangled the way of the game's superstars as a rebel Saudi-backed golf tour attempts to take on the dominance of the American-based PGA Tour and the European-based DP World Tour.

This tournament was played as a European Tour event from 2019-2021 and Johnson was the dominant figure with two wins and a second place.

He's on track to triumph again in its new guise as a Saudi-backed Asian Tour event after finishing the opening day with a 65, two shots better than his previous round-one best.

On a day of low scoring at Royal Greens, DJ's 5-under lap was good enough for tied seventh as a familiar but rather forgotten name surged to the top of the leaderboard.

Matteo Manassero made an incredible start to his pro career when, at just 17, he became the youngest ever winner on the European Tour after landing the 2010 Castello Masters.

He added three more titles and seemed to have the world at hist feet when capturing the prestigious BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in 2013.

Manassero rose to 25th in the world at one point before a slump which saw him crash and crash to 1,705th in early 2020.

But there have been better signs over the last two seasons and he teed off this week back at 395th.

A further reminder of his talents was shown in round one when he blitzed an 8-under 62 which included a front-nine 29.

That put him two clear of a bunch including American Bubba Watson, England's Sam Horsfield and Spain's Adri Arnaus.

Manassero said: "It was one of those days in which everything was going my way.

"I was playing really solid, giving myself a lot of birdie chances, a lot of really short ones, as well.

"So just got the round going and just felt comfortable. That's the right word I guess.

"I'm curious to see what 2022 has for me. I worked really well, and I'm happy with the work I've done.

"Obviously, it started really good. There's going to be some lows, there's going to be some ups, but I'm ready for it and see what happens."

Mixed day for superstar raiders

A host of big-name Americans and Europeans are taking part and they had contrasting fortunes.

Two-time Masters champion Watson ended the day in tied second but fellow monster hitter Bryson DeChambeau slumped to a 3-over 73 to sit tied 85th.

-6 Bubba Watson, Harold Varner III

-5 Dustin Johnson, Joaquin Niemann, Matthew Wolff

-4 Patrick Reed, Jason Kokrak, Henrik Stenson, Tommy Fleetwood

-3 Xander Schauffele, Phil Mickelson, Tyrrell Hatton

-2 Ian Poulter, Shane Lowry, Tony Finau, Abraham Ancer, Paul Casey

Evs Kevin Na, Sergio Garcia, Rafa Cabrera Bello

+1 Lee Westwood

+3 Bryson DeChambeau, Thomas Pieters, Graeme McDowell

+4 Marc Leishman

Jamieson and Heisele lead the way at Al Hamra

Over on the DP World (formerly European) Tour, a rather more modest field are contesting the Ras Al Khaimah Championship at Al Hamra GC in the United Arab Emirates.

First-day honours went to Scotland's Scott Jamieson and Germany's Sebastian Heisele.

They both blasted 7-under 65s to lead by a shot from Thomas Detry, David Law, Johannes Veerman and Brandon Stone.

Jamieson was also the first-round leader at the Abu Dhabi Championship two weeks ago.

Heisele, meanwhile, played this course when it was used on the Challenge Tour, finishing tied 32nd (2016) and tied 33rd (2017) in the Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge.

This was his lowest score there by three shots.

It was a forgettable day for pre-tournament favourite Bernd Weisberger as he returned a 2-over 74 to finish in a tie for 100th.

As for the much-touted Hojgaard twins, Nicolai fired a 5-under 67 to sit tied seventh while a 3-under 69 from Rasmus left him tied 17th.

This wasn't one of Rasmus's better swings although the result wasn't bad!

READ MORE: Greg Norman: Why it's not surprising the world leader whisperer is heading Saudi Arabia's golf plans

Latest news