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Thu 30 Jan 2020 08:39 PM

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Defending champ Johnson fires 67 as McDowell sets early Saudi pace

Dustin Johnson lies three shots off the lead after the first round of the Saudi International at the Royal Greens Golf Club

Defending champ Johnson fires 67 as McDowell sets early Saudi pace
Dustin Johnson is defending his Saudi International title this week.

Graeme McDowell birdied his last three holes in tough conditions to sit at the top of the leaderboard after day one of the 2020 Saudi International.

Tied for the lead with Malaysia's Gavin Green at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, it is nearly six years since McDowell claimed the last of his 10 European Tour wins.

Defending champion Dustin Johnson and last week's winner in Dubai, Lucas Herbert, were in the group three shots off the lead.

Henrik Stenson, another Swede in Sebastian Soderberg, Spaniard Adri Arnaus, Frenchman Victor Perez and Venezuela's Jhonattan Vegas were a shot off the lead.

"It was nice to get out of there with six under par because I felt like I played great today," he said in comments published by the European Tour. "It would have been a horrible round to let get away but to finish birdie-birdie-birdie was nice.

"Playing well in these conditions is really just about trying to stay patient. Hang tough, hit fairways, hit greens and obviously being a good putter helps as well - be able to clean up any mistakes you make."

Phil Mickelson recorded the first 29 of his European Tour career on the back nine as the five time Major champion got to four under alongside Kiwi Ryan Fox and English quartet Ross Fisher, Tom Lewis, Aaron Rai and Andy Sullivan.

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