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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 6 March 2021

David Horsey surprises himself with record-equalling 61 at Saudi International

Englishman takes one-shot lead at concluding event on the Desert Swing

David Horsey conceded his course record-equalling 61 during the first round at the Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers came as a total shock.

The Englishman was part of the morning wave at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club to take advantage of favourable scoring conditions early on Thursday, firing a bogey-free 9-under to sit top of the leaderboard.

A four-time winner on the European Tour, Horsey has not had the best of starts to his season, missing the cut in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

However, he began the concluding event on the Desert Swing in fine fashion, courtesy of a brilliant run of seven birdies in eight holes on the back nine.

“It's a shock actually,” Horsey said afterwards. “I've been playing rubbish the last couple weeks. Didn't feel like I controlled my ball the first two events.

“Sort of had a conversation with a pal back home last night, talking a few things through and 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.”

Horsey, 35, has missed the cut on his two previous appearances in Saudi – the tournament is only three years old – but holds a one-shot lead over Stephen Gallacher.

Austrian Bernd Wiesberger is two shots further back, with a six-strong group on 5-under headlined by US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau.

World No 1 Dustin Johnson, the event’s inaugural winner who now shares the course record with Horsey, carded a three-under 67, as did reigning Race to Dubai champion Lee Westwood and recent Abu Dhabi winner Tyrrell Hatton. Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Tony Finau all shot 68.

At one point on Thursday, Horsey threatened golf’s fabled 59, but needed an eagle on the last to reach the mark. He eventually made par.

“I had a little conversation with myself going down 16,” he said. “I wanted to make birdie there. Sort of added it up and realised can't really reach 18 in two. I think, realistically, two good birdie chances: managed to birdie 17 and made a bit of a hash at the last.

“Wasn't really on my mind if I'm honest with you. If it was reachable, maybe more so.”

Gallacher reeled off one more birdie on the day than Horsey, with 10, although he dropped shots on 12 and 18 to finish 8-under.

“I had four or five tap-ins, which was nice,” said the Scot, two-time winner of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. “It's like when you get on a roll, I kept hitting it pretty close, and you do see [the hole] like a bucket every now and then – you think you're going to hole everything.

“You've got to kind of make hay while the sun shines with that department, because it could be the total opposite the other days, when you feel like you can't see anything going in. It was lovely to find that today.”

DeChambeau’s short game was working well, too, after a round in which the world No 8, the game’s longest hitter at present, admitted struggling with his driver.

“I know that I'm putting well,” he said. “I know that I can hit it far out here. I'm disappointed it's not as far as I would like it, but once I got out there and was hitting some wayward shots, you have to try to rein it in and control it better. I was able to do that for the most part and miss it in the right places.

“It's just more of my body isn't feeling 100 per cent from the travel over, and not like I thought it would. Was definitely struggling with the driver and a little bit of the irons, and I have to clean that up for tomorrow. If I can do that and putt the way I did today, I'll certainly be pleased.”

Published: February 4, 2021 06:55 PM

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