DAVID Howell made a difficult start to the Saudi International on Thursday after carding a two-over opening round of 72.

However, fellow Wiltshire golfer Jordan Smith fared better and made three birdies to help him towards a one-under round of 69.

Swindon star Howell, who is making just his second appearance on the European Tour’s 2019 season, made a far better start than at last week’s Dubai Desert Classic – when he shot a nine-over 81 in his opening round – but could still only manage to birdie one hole at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.

The 43-year-old – who played the back-nine first – dropped a shot on 15, although he made up for it with a birdie-four on 18 as he reached the turn at level par.

Two more bogeys on his 11th and 12th holes would be the last time Howell would shoot anything other than par and the Broome Manor man finds himself nine shots off the lead ahead of Friday’s second round.

Belgium’s Thomas Pieters currently leads the way after a seven-under first round of 63.

Howell will begin the second round in a tie for 97th place on the leaderboard, so will have his work cut out if he is to play all four days at the tournament.

However, after carding a much-improved four-under in the second round in Dubai last time out, the former Ryder Cup player should be confident of playing his way into the weekend with a repeat of that Friday form.

Howell tees off his quest to make the cut at 8.45am GMT.

Meanwhile, fellow Wiltshire golfer Smith made three birdies to help him towards an opening round of 69 for a share of 46th place on one-under.

Smith, also starting on the back-nine, made bogey on his second hole before recovering well with birdies on his sixth and ninth to make the turn at one-under.

The 26-year-old capitalised on a beautiful tee shot on the par-three second – his 11th – to record a birdie and move to two-under before a slip up on the following hole saw Smith give a shot back.

Another bogey two holes later would be the last time Smith would shoot anything other than par as he finished the day in the same scoring group as Ryder Cup hero Sergio Garcia and former world number one Brooks Koepka.