Dubai-based golfer Rayhan Thomas, who is looking to crack the Top-10 in World Amateur Rankings, was the best Indian on display on the first day of the inaugural Saudi International on Thursday.
The 19-year-old Thomas was placed Tied-17th after bringing in a card of three-under 67 with four birdies, three of them in the first five holes, against one bogey.
He was four shots behind leader Belgian Thomas Pieters (63) at the Par-70 Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.
Gaganjeet Bhullar shot 68 and was Tied-31st, while Shubhankar Sharma struggled in the strong afternoon winds to shoot a birdie-less 77, which means he needs to go really low to make the cut that is likely to be at even par.
Rayhan, who won a silver medal for India at the Asia-Pacific Amateurs, said, “I played solid and hit a lot of good drives and iron shots. The putting also gave me confidence. Overall it was a good day and I need to build on it.”
He will tee off in the first group on Friday. “The wind should be down and morning scores are likely to be better.”
Bhullar was unable to come to terms with the slow greens and despite some fine driving and iron play, managed only a 68.
He said, “A couple of lip outs and a couple of small misses including one from inside three feet on the fourth did not help.”
Pieters, a three-time European Tour winner, shot a blemish-free seven-under 63 to take a two-shot lead over a bunch of six players including South Africans Justin Harding and Zander Lombard, Australian Jake McLeod, Italian Renato Paratore and the English duo, Ross Fisher and Alfie Plant.
World No. 1 Justin Rose finished his first round at level par while World No. 2 and playing partner Brooks Koepka, three-under through 11, saw a promising start fade away as he signed for a 69.
The 2016 Open winner Henrik Stenson was the best round in the marquee group at 68.
The reigning Masters champion, Patrick Reed finished at three-under, while last week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic winner Bryson DeChambeau, one-over through 13, pulled in three late birdies in last five to finish at 68.
World No. 3 Dustin Johnson shot 68, while Sergio Garcia carded 69.
Among Asian Tour members, Harding, who who got into the event following a Top-10 finish in Dubai last week, made the most of it with a flying start of five-under 65 with six birdies and one bogey.