George Coetzee went bogey-free on Thursday on his way to an opening four-under-par 66 in the European Tour’s Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.
He found himself five shots off the blistering pace set by England’s David Horsey, who reeled off an astonishing seven birdies on the back nine as he signed for a nine-under 61 and a one-stroke lead over Stephen Gallacher of Scotland. Bernd Wiesberger of Austria was in third on six-under, with six players on five-under, including Bryson DeChambeau.
Coetzee, who played in the morning field, made three birdies on the front nine, and picked up just one more on his way in on a day when the wind was persistent and challenging. He was joined in a share of 10th after the first round my Andy Sullivan, Laurie Canter, Fabrizio Zanotti, Johnattan Vegas and Miko Korhonen.
Justin Harding, Justin Walters and Christiaan Bezuidenhout all opened with two-under 68s for a share of 31st, while Richard Sterne and Dean Burmester were both one-under after the first round, in 49th.
Brandon Stone, Haydn Porteous and Garrick Higgo all signed for level-par 70, with Wilco Nienaber on one-over. Zander Lombard was two-over, while Ernie Els and Jayden Schaper battled their way to four-over-par 76 each.
Horsey has finished in the top 100 on the Race to Dubai in 10 of the last 12 seasons, but missed the cut in his first two events of 2021.
“It’s a shock actually,” he said, after carding nine birdies – seven of which came in a spectacular inward 28. “I’ve been playing rubbish the last couple weeks. Didn’t feel like I controlled my ball the first two events.
“I had a conversation with a pal back home last night, talking a few things through and he suggested something that I work on away from the tournament. Knowing me, I thought, well, can’t get any worse, so I may as well try it and here we are.”
Coetzee, a five-time winner on the European Tour, started his 2021 campaign with 11th place in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, but an indifferent showing last week in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic saw him in a share of 60th.