Horsey shoots 1st-round 61, upstages strong field in Saudi

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia (AP) — At a low ebb after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to start his season, David Horsey phoned a friend for some help on the eve of his first round at the Saudi International.

The advice worked wonders for the 282nd-ranked golfer on Thursday.

Horsey upstaged what will likely be the strongest field in a European Tour event all year, shooting a course record-tying 9-under 61 in a round featuring seven birdies in an eight-hole stretch on the back nine.

The Englishman got to the par-5 18th hole needing eagle for only the second ever 59 in the tour’s history but couldn’t reach the green in two, and wound up with a par to tie Dustin Johnson’s leading score from 2019.

“It’s a shock, actually,” Horsey said. “I’ve been playing rubbish the last couple weeks.

“Sort of 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. I thought, ‘Well, can’t get any worse, so I may as well try it,’ and here we are.”

The advice — given by a 22-year-old club pro whom Horsey has been mentoring back in England — was “about how my body is moving,” Horsey revealed.

“It’s nice to have a feel you can wake up and pick it up straight away,” said Horsey, who is seeking his fifth win on the European Tour and first since 2015.

The No. 1-ranked Johnson, winner of the inaugural Saudi International two years ago, is one of four top-10 players at the tournament and opened with a bogey-free 67 to be six shots off the lead.

Johnson also placed second last year.

Another big hitter from the United States, No. 8-ranked Bryson DeChambeau, said he reined in his distance off the tee because he was spraying his drives and shot 65.

“It’s just more my body isn’t feeling 100% from the travel over,” DeChambeau said. “I haven’t been able to work out the way I wanted to.

“Once you start hitting it wayward, my brain just kind of retracts to not wanting to swing as fast.”

DeChambeau was in a six-way tie for fourth on 5 under, with Li Haotong of China — the runner-up to Johnson in 2019 — in that group.

Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher birdied five of his last six holes for a 62 and was one shot behind Horsey.

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