John Catlin, the Asian Tour’s newly crowned ‘Mr 59’, kept the lead in the US$ 1 million Saudi Open presented by PIF on Thursday, adding a four-under-par 67 to his opening 65.

The American, who is chasing back-to-back titles on the Asian Tour having won the International Series Macau presented by Wynn last month, is 10-under and a shot ahead of China’s Li Haotong and Australia’s Scott Hend.

Li fired a 65 and Hend a 67 at Riyadh Golf Club – in the fifth event of the year on the Asian Tour.

England’s Steve Lewton and Spaniard David Puig, the Asian Tour Order of Merit leader who was 11-under on his last hole but made a triple, are a stroke further back after rounds of 64 and 67 respectively.

Catlin is bogey free for two rounds and has lost none of the confidence that saw him shoot an 11-under-par 59 in the third round in Macau to become the first player on the Asian Tour to card that elusive and magical number.

He birdied the drivable par-four 18th in the evening to slip ahead of Li and Hend who played in the morning flights.

“I ground it out well,” said the 32-year-old five-time winner on the Asian Tour.

“I didn’t have my best stuff, but you know, my short game was saving me, especially on the back nine there. I’m looking forward to getting some rest tonight and battling it out over the weekend and will see what happens.

“I think I got a very good chance over the next two days. I mean, there’s obviously a lot of good players up there, but I think I’m one of them, so I think I have a good shot.”

Two birdies on each nine were some way off the nine birdies and an eagle he assembled for his 59 but enough to put him in pole position once again.

It has been quite some time since Li has been in contention.

He has won seven times since turning professional in 2011, when he was just 17, including on three occasions on the DP World Tour, but the past few seasons have been significant only by his absence, particularly last year when missed nearly every cut.

However, his form has shown marked improvement this season with four rounds being completed more often and this week he looks like his former self.

Said the 28-year-old: “I played really well. Wasted some chances. The course played a lot easier compared to yesterday, because of no wind and easier pin positions. So hopefully have a hot start tomorrow.”

He dropped just one shot and made seven birdies, including four in the first five on the front nine – which was his second half as he started on 10.

“I am still struggling a little bit off the tee, but except for that everything’s pretty solid overall. I am here to try and get the job done and get the trophy!” added the Chinese star, whose most recent win was the 2022 BMW International Open in Europe.

Hend, the 50-year-old in search of an 11th title on the Asian Tour, lost the chance of the outright lead on Wednesday following a three-putt from short range for a double bogey on 15 but vowed to bounce back in easier morning conditions in round two. And he kept to his word shooting five birdies and one bogey.

“No wind this morning and the greens were rolling, so it was all good, much easier to manage the process,” said the 2016 Asian Tour Order of Merit winner.

“I missed a few but will save them for the next two days. I have been playing a lot of golf at my home course in Australia and really enjoying it and that’s been helping.”

In February it looked like he was closing in on that 11th Asian Tour win at the New Zealand Open presented by Sky Sport, but he three-putted the final hole to lose by a stroke to Japan’s Takahiro Hataji.

Lewton’s 64 is the joint lowest round of the tournament so far and was made up of eight birdies and one dropped shot. Six of those birdies were on the second nine, where he made four in a row from 12.

“I played really nicely,” said Lewton, who has Simon Griffiths – a former Asian Tour player now playing on the Legends Tour in Europe – on his bag.

“I got one good break early on one of the par fives and capitalised on it, and then just played solid the rest of the day really. I hit some shots really close to the flags and just made a few more putts than I did yesterday. Because yesterday I played solid again, just had a really bad kind of finish.”

Puig, winner of the season-opening Malaysian Open and beaten by Catlin in a play-off in Macau, lost his ball off the tee on the par-four ninth, his final hole. He reloaded, found the greenside bunker in four and failed to get up and down. It was a disappointing end to a round that began spectacularly with five birdies and an eagle in the first five holes – for one of the lowest starts to a round in the history of the Asian Tour.

Image: Asian Tour