The art of Saudi drifting culture

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

The pair both recorded rounds of 66 for a 10-under total of 130 to take a two-shot lead over Cameron Smith and Matt Wolff – as well as 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 in touch ahead of Saturday’s so-called moving day. First-round leader Matteo Manassero remains in contention on 5-under par.

Varner III is a newcomer to the Saudi International but is enjoying a course that offers plenty of birdies despite the windy conditions that are a signature of the King Abdullah Economic City layout.

The 31-year-old American said: “The course is unbelievable. It’s really good. It wasn’t blowing as hard this morning, so I was just trying to hang in there and just give myself a chance.

“I think you’ve got to drive it really well here. It’s forgiving off the tee, but when blowing, the lines get a little bit tighter, and you’ve just got to keep hitting good shots.”

Arnaus, a Golf Saudi ambassador, is continuing a strong run of results in the Middle East this year with another high-class showing. A rollercoaster front nine of five birdies and three bogeys was followed by a steady closing run of holes coming home that included driving the 17th green.

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

“It’s been a bit of a short preseason for me because I had to make sure I didn’t come with my old injury this year, so I’m good with that,” he added.

Australian world No. 11 Smith was another to adapt to the windy conditions, drawing on his experiences Down Under to put himself firmly in the hunt heading into the weekend.

“I like it windy. I grew up in the wind. Being from Australia, it’s something you kind of have to get used to pretty quick. Around here you just need to hit it good off the tee. There’s plenty of opportunities, plenty of wedges, and just be real patient with it,” the 28-year-old said.

Ryosuke Kinoshita, 30, of Japan was the leading Asian Tour player on Friday and followed his opening round 64 with a composed round of 70 to remain four shots back and in the mix.

He said: “Conditions were very difficult, but I am pleased to have played in the morning as it will be difficult later. I played steady and I’m in a good position. I had chances for birdie on the front nine but in these conditions nine pars is OK.”

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

At the start of the day American Bryson DeChambeau withdrew from the event with a left hand and left hip injury.

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