Defending champ Dustin Johnson 3 off lead after Round 1 of Saudi International

Dustin Johnson reads a putt during the first round of the Saudi International.

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Dustin Johnson has put himself in good position for a repeat. The 37-year-old World No. 5 opened the PIF Saudi International with a five-under 65 and is just three off the lead after the opening round at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.

Matteo Manassero leads at eight under, and Sam Horsfield, Harold Varner III and Bubba Watson are in a group of five at six under and a shot ahead of Johnson, who has won this tournament twice in the last three years.

Phil Mickelson watches a drive during a practice round of the PIF Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia.
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“I’m going to try to do everything I can to put myself in a position to have a chance to win come Sunday,” Johnson said on Wednesday in his pre-tournament press conference. “Obviously the field keeps getting better and better every year, so it gets a little harder and harder to win the trophy. They’ve done a great job with this event and keep bringing a lot of world-class players in. I think this year is probably the best field they’ve had. It’s a lot of talent, a lot of really good golfers. It’s going to be a challenge.”

On Thursday, Johnson birdied three of the first four and turned in four-under 31. He was one under on the back.

Other notables from Thursday’s first round: Joaquin Niemann and Matthew Wolff also shot five under; Patrick Reed, Cameron Smith and Tommy Fleetwood are four under; and Xander Schauffele and Phil Mickelson are three under. Bryson Dechambeau shot 39 on the front and signed for a three-over 73.

The second round of the Saudi International airs 6:30-9:30 a.m. ET on Friday on Golf Channel.

Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

Josh Berhow is the managing editor at GOLF.com. The Minnesota native graduated with a journalism degree from Minnesota State University in Mankato. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.