Matteo Manassero rekindled some of the magic from his glory days to take the first-round lead today at the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers.
The Italian shot a sizzling eight-under-par bogey-free 62 at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in what is the opening event of the Asian Tour’s 2022-23 season.
England’s Sam Horsfield, Adri Arnaus from Spain, Japan’s Ryosuke Kinoshita plus Americans Bubba Watson and Harold Varner III carded 64s.
Newly crowned Asian Tour Order of Merit champion Joohyung Kim from Korea, Americans Dustin Johnson, the defending champion, and Matthew Wolff, Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai, Indian Shiv Kapur, and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann came in with 65s.
Manassero has struggled with his game over the past 10 years, following a brilliant start to his career as a teenager, but today’s performance in the star-studded US$5 million event suggests better days are ahead.
He toured the front nine in six-under-par 29 with six birdies before two birdies on the homeward stretch.
“It was one of those days in which everything was going my way,” said the Italian.
“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.”
The 28-year-old’s last big win came in 2013 at the BMW PGA Championship – which was his fourth success on the DP World Tour in the space of three years.
He also won the Singapore Open at Sentosa Golf Club in 2012, when the event was jointly sanctioned with the Asian Tour and the DP World Tour.
He added: “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.”
Joohyung Kim, paired with Johnson – the winner of this event in 2019 and 2021 – also made a fine start despite some nerves early on.
“I think I had some nerves in the first couple holes. You saw that roller coaster ride. But got into a good mindset. I felt calm after a couple holes, and obviously I know I was birdieing. Just stuck in there, and yeah, great round,” said the Korean.
The 19-year-old rising star secured the Merit list last month by winning the Tour’s penultimate event, The Singapore International, before tying for second in the Singapore Open.
“I hope the TV got my smiles because I was having the time of my life. It was awesome playing with those guys, and just a great experience,” he added.
“I told myself there’s a reason I’m playing with these guys, and I know I worked really hard to get to this point. I prepped really well this week, and I just told myself just be confident and don’t be afraid and just hit your shots, and I think that’s what I did.”
Phachara began his round on hole 10 and impressively made six birdies in a row from the 14th to move into contention.
He said: “I feel I am very close to everything coming together. Maybe I need to work more on my fitness and consistency, but everything feels good. It’s a good start and I am excited to start the season this way.”
The brilliant 22 year old won the Laguna Phuket Championship at the end of last year for his maiden win on the Asian Tour, before finishing the season fourth on the Merit list.
His countryman Sadom Kaewkanjana, winner of the Singapore Open, fired a 68 and is in a tie for a 32nd.
Scores after round 1 of the Saudi International being played at the par 70, 7048 Yards Royal Green GCC course (am – denotes amateur):
62 – Matteo Manassero (ITA).
64 – Sam Horsfield (ENG), Adri Arnaus (ESP), Bubba Watson (USA), Harold Varner III (USA), Ryosuke Kinoshita (JPN).
65 – Dustin Johnson (USA), Joohyung Kim (KOR), Phachara Khongwatmai (THA), Shiv Kapur (IND), Joaquin Niemann (CHI), Matthew Wolff (USA).
66 – Rashid Khan (IND), Richard T. Lee (CAN), Bio Kim (KOR), Patrick Reed (USA), Jason Kokrak (USA), Rattanon Wannasrichan (THA), Henrik Stenson (SWE), Lucas Herbert (AUS), Cameron Smith (AUS), Tommy Fleetwood (ENG).
67 – Xander Schauffele (USA), Shubhankar Sharma (IND), Jarin Todd (USA), Todd Baek (USA), Brad Kennedy (AUS), Phil Mickelson (USA), Berry Henson (USA), Tyrrell Hatton (ENG), Takumi Kanaya (JPN).
68 – Sadom Kaewkanjana (THA), Ian Poulter (ENG), Laurie Canter (ENG), Shane Lowry (IRL), Tony Finau (USA), Jhonattan Vegas (VEN), Pablo Larrazabal (ESP), Doyeob Mun (KOR), Bjorn Hellgren (SWE), Jovan Rebula (RSA), Abraham Ancer (MEX), Steve Lewton (ENG), J.C. Ritchie (RSA), Paul Casey (ENG), Wade Ormsby (AUS), Jazz Janewattananond (THA), Ryo Hisatsune (JPN).
69 – Louis Dobbelaar (AUS), Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Eduard Rousaud (ESP), Mathiam Keyser (RSA), Andrew Dodt (AUS), Poom Saksansin (THA), Ratchanon Chantananuwat (am, THA).
70 – Hongtaek Kim (KOR), Kevin Na (USA), Scott Hend (AUS), Gavin Green (MAS), Natipong Srithong (THA), Travis Smyth (AUS), Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP), Rikuya Hoshino (JPN), Jaco Ahlers (RSA), Sergio Garcia (ESP), Paul Peterson (USA).
71 – Veer Ahlawat (IND), Sihwan Kim (USA), Justin Harding (RSA), Yoseop Seo (KOR), Jack Harrison (ENG), Scott Vincent (ZIM), Yikeun Chang (KOR), Angelo Que (PHI), Lee Westwood (ENG), Daniel Hillier (NZL), Trevor Simsby (USA), Panuphol Pittayarat (THA), Viraj Madappa (IND).
72 – Pavit Tangkamolprasert (THA), Koh Deng Shan (SIN), Jason Dufner (USA), Taichi Kho (am, HKG), S. Chikkarangappa (IND).
73 – Graeme McDowell (NIR), Victor Perez (FRA), Othman Almulla (KSA), Danny Masrin (INA), Sebastian Crampton (USA), Chan Shih-chang (TPE), Jbe Kruger (RSA), Bryson DeChambeau (USA), Suradit Yongcharoenchai (THA), Prom Meesawat (THA), Naoki Sekito (JPN), Ben Eccles (AUS), Thomas Pieters (BEL), Neil Schietekat (RSA), Miguel Carballo (ARG).
74 – Siddikur Rahman (BAN), James Hart Du Preez (RSA), Hiroshi Iwata (JPN), Kosuke Hamamoto (THA), Jediah Morgan (AUS), Saleh Ali Al Kaabi (am, QAT), Khalin Joshi (IND), Marc Leishman (AUS), Oliver Fisher (ENG), Cormac Sharvin (NIR), Wu Ashun (CHN), Zach Bauchou (USA).
75 – Ryan Ruffels (AUS), Shergo Al Kurdi (JOR), Josh Hill (am, ENG), Saud Sharif (am, KSA), Rory Hie (INA), Faisal Salhab (am, KSA), Dean Naime (am, EGY).
79 – Tirawat Kaewsiribandit (THA).