The art of Saudi drift culture

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: Harold Varner III and Adri Arnaus had a halfway shock at a windswept Royal Greens Golf and Country Club on Friday after the second round of the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers.

The pair recorded both rounds of 66 for a 10-under 130 overall to take a two-shot lead over Cameron Smith and Matt Wolff — plus some of the game’s biggest stars at the Asian Tour’s season-opening event in Saudi Arabia.

Tommy Fleetwood (-7), Bubba Watson (-6), Xander Schauffele (-5), Patrick Reed (-4) and Phil Mickelson (-4) are all lurking on the leaderboard and are in touch ahead of what is known as Saturday’s moving day. First-round leader Matteo Manassero remains in contention at 5-under par.

Varner III is a newcomer to Saudi International but enjoys a course that offers plenty of birdies despite the windy conditions characteristic of King Abdullah Economic City’s layout.

The 31-year-old American said: “The course is incredible. It is very good. It wasn’t blowing that hard this morning so I tried to hold on and give myself a chance.

“I think you have to drive really well here. It’s forgiving off the tee, but the lines narrow a bit on blow and you just need to keep hitting good shots.

Golf Saudi Ambassador Arnaus continues a strong string of results in the Middle East this year with another top-flight performance. A rollercoaster front nine with five birdies and three bogeys was followed by a steady succession of holes coming home, including hitting the 17th green.

The 27-year-old Spaniard says: “I’ve been playing this course for a number of years now. I’m starting to get the hang of it and I think everything is going in the right direction.

“It was a bit of a short pre-season for me because I had to make sure I didn’t come with my old injury this year, so I’m fine with that,” he added.

World No. 11 Australia Smith also adapted to the windy conditions, using his experience Down Under to set himself firmly in the hunt ahead of the weekend.

“I like it windy. I grew up in the wind. Coming from Australia, you have to get used to it pretty quickly. You just have to hit the tee well here. There are many opportunities, many wedges and just be very patient with it,” said the 28-year-old.

Ryosuke Kinoshita, 30, of Japan was the leading player on Friday’s Asian Tour, following his opening round of 64 with a composed round of 70 to stay four strokes behind and in the mix.

He said: “The conditions were very difficult but I’m glad I played in the morning as it will be difficult later on. I’ve played consistently and I’m in a good position. I had birdie chances on the first nine, but par nine is ok in these conditions.”

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Thai sensation Ratchanon Chantananuwat made the cut for the weekend with a round of 75 after his opening day 66 to leave him 1 over par.

Earlier in the day, American Bryson DeChambeau withdrew from the event with a left hand and hip injury.

For more information on PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, please visit www.saudiinternational.com.

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