American Dustin Johnson grabbed a three-shot lead at the halfway stage of the inaugural Saudi International, the first top-level golf tournament to be held in the country, on Friday as world number one Justin Rose missed the cut.
Former world number one Johnson established the course record at the brand-new layout with a nine-under-par 61 which hauled him to the top of the leaderboard at 11-under, three shots better than South African Zander Lombard and China’s Li Haotong.
However, current number one Rose made an early exit from the tournament.
The 38-year-old, winner of last week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on the PGA Tour, shot a two-over-par 72 and failed to make it to the weekend by two shots.
Second-ranked Brooks Koepka, who can now regain the top spot by winning the tournament after Rose missed the cut, shot an even-par 70 and is tied 47th in the tournament which has been criticised over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
After struggling on the greens throughout his first round on Thursday afternoon, Johnson made full use of the calm morning conditions and the fresh greens, converting one eagle and seven birdies.
“Obviously, you always have fun when you’re playing well. I did a lot of the same things I did yesterday. I drove it really well and gave myself a lot of opportunities,” said Johnson.
Li, who was penalised two shots on the final hole of the Dubai Desert Classic and dropped from tied third to tied 12th after his caddie was deemed to have lined up his putt, put himself in contention again with a solid round that just featured one bogey ?- on the par-five fourth hole.
“It was very pleasing. I played quite solid and disappointed in hole four, which is a birdie hole, but I made a bogey. That is like giving two shots there. Otherwise, I think I did everything very well,” said the 23-year-old, now ranked 44th in the world.
Rose pays for poor first round
Rose, whose round included a double bogey on the picturesque par-three 16th hole, said he did himself no favours after an even-par 70 in easier conditions on Thursday morning.
“That is the reason why I am disappointed. I should have been at least five-six-under through that middle stretch yesterday. I did feel I was chasing the cut towards the end, which is why I started playing aggressively,” said Rose.
“I could have made a run in the morning tomorrow if I had scored slightly better in the first round. As for the number one ranking, I did manage to open up a bit of gap after the win at Torrey Pines, but these are great players.
“I don’t expect them to play badly, but then the number one is not my focus this year. I am enjoying being one, but my focus is on the majors.”
Australian Scott Hend put together a great seven-under 63 late in the afternoon and catapulted to tied fourth at seven-under alongside Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti.