Ryan Fox has the clubhouse lead at the halfway point of the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers after a rain-soaked day at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.
The big-hitting New Zealander shot his second five-under par 65 in a row to sit atop a leaderboard packed with big names – many of whom will return to the course to complete their rounds tomorrow.
Thunderstorms forced a two-hour break in play on day two of the $3.5million tournament as King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) experienced what locals believe was only its second bout of rainfall in the last year.
That delay meant that 16 groups failed to finish before sunset, with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Tyrrell Hatton all ominously positioned behind the leaders with rounds still to complete.
Renowned for its bruising afternoon winds, Friday morning’s passing storm made for unusually calm post-lunch conditions on the Red Sea coast, allowing most of the field who made a fast start playing in Thursday morning’s calm weather to continue that form today.
On the flip side, those golfers who battled Thursday’s afternoon wind found themselves fighting the elements again this morning.
Tellingly, only five of the tournament’s leading 30 players head into the weekend having endured Thursday afternoon and Friday morning rounds.
It took until 3.10pm and the delayed tee-shot of Stephen Gallacher for the sun to eventually appear at Royal Greens – and the Scotsman, in second place after Thursday’s opening day, certainly hoped it would continue to shine on him as he headed-out one shot adrift of overnight leader David Horsey.
That proved to be the case, as Gallacher followed his opening eight-under-par with a two-under-par score in the 12 holes he managed before play was called for the day, putting him level with Fox at the top of the leaderboard with six holes still to finish.
Gallacher said: “I took a bit of a shot and got a bogey on the second. But I then hit it close at the next, birdied that, and that got me back.
“You just want to go out and try and shoot as well as you can. It's a good course; it's a good layout, it’s in good condition. In the afternoon it can get quite tricky, so it's a good test.”
Horsey sits three back on seven-under-par, himself with six holes left to complete.
Only a bogey on the last prevented Ryan Fox from having the outright lead heading into the weekend. The Kiwi was, however, comfortable in admitting that he had benefitted from being in the weather-blessed half of the tournament’s opening two rounds.
“I think we got very, very lucky,” said the 34-year-old, who has one previous European Tour title to his name.
“Obviously [there was] no wind yesterday morning, and we came back out [today] and it was pretty much perfect. You don't often get two days of no wind around here and it was nice to take advantage of that. You get the bad side of the draw enough times. It's nice to get the good side every now and again!”
He added: “It's been a really solid couple days of ball-striking. To be sitting near the top of this leaderboard is always a good thing. It's a pretty strong field this week.”
The morning’s weather was tempered by only a few players, with Norway’s Viktor Hovland the best of the early starts, shooting a bogey-free 66, taking him to six-under-par for the tournament.
The 23-year-old said: “I had a very nice start, birdieing the first hole and making another one a couple holes later. I just gave myself really good chances early on.
“I was in very good control of my game and then the wind started picking up and it started raining, so the course played a lot longer and it was a grind on a couple holes. But I managed to just hit it to 20, 25 feet a lot, and you're just going to two-putt a lot of those putts, so it was pretty solid.”
World #1 Dustin Johnson is two behind the lead on eight-under-par with four holes left to complete. Justin Rose is one shot back with three holes to play, where he is tied at seven under-par with fellow Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who managed to complete his round as the sun set.
Tony Finau, Tyrrell Hatton, and Kevin Na will all return to complete their rounds with scores of six-under-par, while Phil Mickelson sank a birdie putt on 18 in what proved to be the last shot of the day to put himself in contention at five-under-par.
The Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers continues over the weekend and is being broadcast live on KSA Sports.