Johnson in contention to defend Saudi title

Johnson in contention to defend Saudi title

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia — Dustin Johnson‘s bid for a third victory at the Saudi International began with the American shooting 5-under 65, leaving him 3 strokes off the lead held by Matteo Manassero after the first round Thursday.

Johnson is one of a slew of high-profile players from the PGA Tour and the European Tour on big appearance fees at the opening event of the Asian Tour. He is looking to back up his titles from 2019 and last year; he finished second in 2020.

The No. 5-ranked Johnson was 6 under after 11 holes at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club. He bogeyed No. 13 and parred his way home to be in a six-way tie for seventh place.

Manassero, a onetime prodigy in European golf who fell off the main tour and now competes on the second-tier Challenge Tour, covered the front nine in 29 after making six birdies, and picked up more shots at Nos. 11 and 12. He was bogey-free in his round of 62.

Manassero was two shots clear of a group of five players — including Americans Bubba Watson and Harold Varner III — who were tied for second.

In a field that had the feel of a top PGA Tour event, Cameron Smith, Patrick Reed and Tommy Fleetwood were among those shooting 66s, with Xander Schauffele and Phil Mickelson a further stroke back.

Bryson DeChambeau opened with a 3-over 73 that contained a triple-bogey 7 at the seventh hole.

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