Golf: Manassero takes two-shot lead in Saudi International opening round

Manassero (above) was two shots clear of a pack of five players on six-under that included two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/MATTEO MANASSERO

JEDDAH (REUTERS) - Italy's Matteo Manassero took a two-shot lead in the opening round of the Saudi International after carding a brilliant 62 to finish at eight-under on Thursday (Feb 3).

Manassero struck eight birdies, including six on the front nine, as he made a strong start in the opening event of the Asian Tour's 2022-23 season at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.

The Jeddah event boasts a strong field including Americans Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, Spain's Sergio Garcia and Briton Tommy Fleetwood. It has a US$5 million (S$6.7 million) prize fund.

"It was one of those days in which everything was going my way," said Manassero. "I was playing really solid, giving myself a lot of birdie chances, a lot of really short ones.

"This is the first tournament I'm out with this new putter which I changed during lockdown. I'm curious to see what 2022 has for me which has started well."

Manassero was two shots clear of a pack of five players on six-under that included two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson.

Former world number one and defending champion Dustin Johnson was at five-under, world number eight Xander Schauffele ended three-under, while DeChambeau finished three-over.

"It's crazy because we had all of this wind the practice rounds and then today was a lot less windy," said Watson.

"The golf course is a little easier without the wind so that made it better.

"With the wind set to come tomorrow we needed to get off to a hot start today - if we then hang on we could be close to the lead or top 10 going into the weekend."

The Asian Tour is set for a major overhaul this season with the introduction of 10 new marquee events following its partnership with the newly-formed LIV Golf Investments, a company backed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund.

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