There will not be Rory McIlroy and no Jon Rahm gamble for the mega riches offered to the Saudi International in Jeddah this week, but the rest of the ground looks like a who’s who of golf as many of the world’s best go head-to-head Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.
Participants had to apply for special exemptions from the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that money talks in this part of the world. The Saudi international is one of 10 events sponsored by the Saudi Public Investment Fund and offers vast riches to those who participate in it. And the Saudis have mounted a serious charm offensive to try to convince the world that the tournament is being held for the greater good of sport in general and, more specifically, to grow the game in this part of the world.
And many heads were turned, including Dustin Johnson (winner last year when he moved to the European Tour umbrella), Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia, Xander Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Kevin Na, Jason Kokrak, Abraham Ancer, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Joaquin Niemann, Cameron Smith, Marc Leishman, Lucas Herbert, Victor Perez, Harold Varner III, Jason Dufner , Jhonattan Vegas and Lee Westwood. Alongside some of the confirmed star names will be the top 30 players in the Final Order of Merit from the 2020-21 Asian Tour, including Wade Ormsby, Phachara Khongwatmai and Joohyung Kim.
McIlroy spoke about the fact that players have the right to decide where they play their trade, but interestingly he decided to miss the tournament, especially considering he played in that part of the world at both the Abu Dhabi Championship and Dubai Desert Classic. open champ Collin Morikawa is also missing him.
Players from Europe and America taking part this week have had to sign pledges to play specific events on their “home” tours in order to secure their release and it will be interesting to see if Stenson’s participation affects his desire to become a Ryder Cup. captain. Whether or not top golfers are independent traders or bound by tour membership criteria has been the subject of much debate and is a subject McIlroy has addressed at length.
The tournament is held under the auspices of the Asian Tour, but make no mistake – it is a golf tournament hosted by Saudi Arabia and is part of the Saudis’ attempts to convince the world that they is now a major sports player.
Former Open Champion Shane Lowry is one of the star names to have signed up and he was duly fired to face the media, saying he had no qualms playing in Saudi Arabia
. “Obviously people who write about this tournament or what they say about us going to play can’t hide, but at the end of the day, for me, I’m not a politician, I’m a golfer professional,” he said. “I make a living for myself and my family and try to take care of that, and that’s just part of it, and I have to go.”
Ian Poulter also defended his decision to participate in the Saudi international event which is now the flagship tournament of the Asian circuit. The Saudis have pumped $200m into the circuit and remain at the center of rumors surrounding an upstart super league to challenge established tours. “It’s a tournament I’ve been in for the past three years,” Poulter said.
“I don’t see a problem going back there to play again even though it’s not a co-sanctioned event. I’ve played it, it’s a good course, they have a lot of world ranking points to offer So for me playing there is a continuation of how I’ve played for the past few years, I’m committing to the minute to make sure I play on the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour.
“At the moment the other tour is not a fully functional tour so I can’t say more because I don’t know if it’s going to happen. If so, who knows? It’s It’s a new format, a huge investment in the game of golf, so until it becomes real, we’re all playing the guessing game.
Let’s not dress this. Participating players do not need to go there. They play because they get paid for their looks and because there is a huge prize to be won.
You might be wondering why all the fuss? Frankly speaking, Saudi Arabia has what could be described as a bad reputation when it comes to human rights and the treatment of women.
Many players say they sincerely believe that hosting events in the Middle East is an opportunity to grow the game of golf. And this is also the point of view of Greg Normanwhich will oversee the development of a Saudi-backed golf league that aims to rival the PGA Tour.
Majed Al-Sorour, CEO and Vice President of Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation, said: “We have a world-class international course. The mix of the world’s best players from the United States, Europe and Asia-Pacific will make this year our most anticipated yet. Bringing together strong teams for our international men’s and women’s events has proven to play a vital role in boosting participation and engagement in sport in Saudi Arabia. The commitment of our long-term partners at the PIF to take the title position on the event provided further recognition that the event has reached a level of strategic importance for Saudi Arabia, impacting our schools and programs. as well as our rapidly improving teams as part of the long journey we are undertaking in Saudi Arabia.
PIF Saudi International, powered by Softbank Investment Advisers, recently announced a 10-year partnership with the Asian Tour, which will play a key role in helping the Asian Tour establish itself in the global game.
Cho Minn Thant, Commissioner and CEO of the Asian Tour, added: “We are all ready for an extremely important week. The tournament will provide our members with an incredible opportunity to play with many global stars of the game and allow us to further grow our fan base.
Whatever the good and bad sides of this event, one thing is guaranteed: we are going to witness a thrilling competition played on a breathtaking golf course.
It was won in 2019 and 2021 by Dustin Johnson and in 2020 by Graeme McDowell.
Royal Greens Golf and Country Club is a par 72 measuring 7,010 yards. Carved out of the desert, it is a masterpiece that contains a lot of water and many bunkers and huge waste areas. The fairways and greens are immaculate – watch out for very low scores.
Where to start with such a world-class domain? Dustin Johnson is a two-time winner and clearly enjoys playing in this part of the world, but his recent form has been quite spotty. Bryson De Chambeau has already made it clear that he plans to bring the course to its knees by mastering it. The former US Open champion has been working hard on his game over the winter and if he can find enough fairways, he might just win this event by a bucketful of strokes. Pay attention to Tyrrell Hatton. The most angry golfer on the planet managed to finish three strokes off the Abu Dhabi Championship despite a horror show on the 18th, a hole that cost him a nine in the third round.
Tyrell Hatton. Gotta find a way to keep this temper in check
In each direction:
Bryson De Chambeau. Turn on the blue touch paper…
In each direction:
Rafa Cabrera Bello. Back to its best
Five to follow:
Tyrell Hatton. Can’t ignore
Bryson De Chambeau. Same
Rafa Cabrera Bello. Underrated iron player
Shane Lowry. Wonderful short game
Dustin Johnson. Enjoy this part of the world
Five strangers to watch:
Wade Ormsby. Has had good form in this part of the world
Henrik Stenson. Just desperate for a good week
Joaquin Nieman. Confirmed winner on the PGA Tour
Phil Mickelson. The old boy always gets it there.
Phachara Khongwatmai. Might surprise a few people
Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography
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