Johnson surges to halfway lead in Saudi International

Justin Rose

Justin Rose hit three birdies and three bogeys in his opening round

The two birdies on the final two holes totaled about 4 feet of putting as Li hacked his way through desert sand and rocks and thick rough trying with everything he had to keep up with his playing partner. "And I think it's a tough journey to have to go back and play straightaway in the States, but one of the big reasons that we came to play here is it fitted my schedule really well". I've got a lot of confidence in what I'm doing and I feel like I'm hitting a lot of really good golf shots.

Headlining the field are the world's top golfers Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and many more. "I played really solid all day and gave myself a lot of opportunities". Two more birdies to start the back nine followed, giving him a two-stroke lead.

Johnson led by four after carding six birdies - including four in a row from the ninth - and one bogey in his first 12 holes.

But Li, 23, who has been marked down for some time as the player from China most likely to win a major championship, made an eagle on each of his two final holes to complete a round of 62 that put him alongside Johnson at 16 under par.

But with back-to-back eagles on the 17th and 18th holes, Li finally caught up with the American.

World No. 3 Dustin Johnson fired an imperious 61 to set a new course record at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club and sit atop the leaderboard at 11 under par in the inaugural Saudi International powered by SBIA.

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It was on the back nine on Sunday that the Chinese saw his challenge fade, a run of three bogeys in five holes after the turn seeing the trophy slip from his reach.

Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti and Scott Hend of Australia are another stroke behind on seven under par.

Li, who had his own disciplinary issues in Dubai last week when he received a two-shot penalty for having his caddie line up a putt, said he was "very, very lucky" to become the first player since Mark Pilkington (Singapore Masters, 2007) to make four eagles in one European Tour round.

The Saudi International is new to the European Tour and is being held amid scrutiny of Saudi Arabia's human-rights record and condemnation following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. "I didn't play my best today, but I found a way to get it done".

"I'm enjoying this place and love the course, everything has been going well".

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