Hend moves into contention in Saudi Arabia

Fri 01 Feb 2019

Hend moves into contention in Saudi Arabia


By V. Krishnaswamy in Saudi Arabia

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, February 1: Scott Hend of Australia putted out in near darkness for a superb seven-under 63, which was bettered only by world number three Dustin Johnson at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club at the inaugural Saudi International powered by SBIA on Friday.

The best-placed Asian Tour member, Hend (63), who is making a comeback from a modest 2018 when he was hit by injuries, was seven-under for the tournament following a 70 in the first round. He had nine birdies, the most by any player in a single round this week, against two bogeys. Hend is seeking his first win since the middle of 2016.

Meanwhile, Johnson crushed the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club with a 61 to set a new course record and move to the top of the leaderboard. He leads South African Zander Lombard (65-67) and Li Haotong (65-67) by three and then there were Fabrizio Zanotti (67-66) and Scott Hend (70-63) at tied-fourth.

There was a lot of drama around the top-three. As Johnson moved to the top, world number one Justin Rose (70-72) suffered and crashed out while world number two Brooks Koepka (69-70) flirted with danger and even found his ball under a rock in the wasteland once. He finally squeezed in to live another two days.

Among other Asian Tour members, Australian Jake McLeod (65-70) moved to tenth and right behind him Gavin Green (68-68) made a good move up to get to four-under with another 68 and was tied-12th. Justin Harding, who had a 65 in the first round, however, slipped with a 72 and is now three-under-par and tied-18th after three bogeys on the back nine of the course.

David Lipsky of the United States (left) and Li Haotong of China (right).

David Lipsky made a jump up after starting from the 10th. He had three birdies in his first nin, but dropped a double on the second while playing his second nine. Yet he managed a 67 and at two-under-par, he is now tied-33rd.

Gaganjeet Bhullar kept moving in and out of the cutline, before finally coming inside with a 72 and he is now even-par and tied-58th.

The Asian Tour members missing out on the cut were Kurt Kitayama (71-70), Ernie Els 70-73, Jeunghun Wang, Wade Ormsby (73-77) and reigning Asian Tour number one Shubhankar Sharma (77-73). Also missing out was Indian amateur Rayhan Thomas who had struggled to 77 after a fine 67 on first day.

Hend said: “It feels a little easier perhaps because the winds are blowing and you can play from both sides. I am a bit more comfortable in breeze than in dead calm. So, it was fine.”

“I don’t know this course too well but it is nice to be in such a position going into Saturday. I had a three-putt for a bogey and missed few others, but I made my share,” said Hend. “The fairways are quite generous but if you get into the waste area you can a pretty ugly lie, so you have to be careful.”

On the course, he added, “It is a young course, it has been only 18 months, so give it a little time. Next year when we come and play again the rough will be up and greens firmer.”

I am getting over the injuries. I had a disc problem in the back, I tore my calf muscle in the right leg. I had many injuries from the week of the New Zealand Open and the Indian Open. I was I injured from there at the Indian Open. I could not play and couldn’t swing for five weeks. Just as my back was getting better I hurt my leg at the KLM. Now I am trying to get over these injuries and this happens when you are getting older. I am working on my fitness, doing gym and lose weight and get back to where I was,” added Hend.

“It seems forever since I won last, so I want to get back to that and I will now play more.”

Gavin Green was moving into some good form.

“I feel I am getting into my game and it is looking good. It is getting better and hopefully it will be a good weekend.”

Right behind Dustin Johnson was Li, ranked 44th in the world and a two-time European Tour winner. He continued his solid form by carding a round of 65 featuring six birdies. 

“I’m enjoying this place and love the course, everything has been going well. We always have some new and different challenges for us for on the European Tour.” said Li.

There was a lot of struggle and tension for some other marquee names, too. Patrick Reed, the reigning Masters champion, was three-over-par through six, but fought back superbly with three birdies in last five holes to come through at two-under. Sergio Garcia (69-70) hung in despite two bogeys in his last five holes and one of them came on 18th.

However, Henrik Stenson (68-74) just could not come to terms with the greens and like Ernie Els (70-73), did not proceed to the weekend rounds.