Lure of greenbacks entices quite the field to Saudi International

Despite controversy over Jamal Khashoggi killing, top golfers travelling for tournament

World number one Justin Rose during the final round of the Farmers Insurance golf tournament at Torrey Pines in San Diego on Sunday.  Photograph: Gregory Bull/AP

World number one Justin Rose during the final round of the Farmers Insurance golf tournament at Torrey Pines in San Diego on Sunday. Photograph: Gregory Bull/AP

 

“I’m not a politician, I’m a pro golfer,” said Justin Rose, the world number one, in vindicating his decision – and, by association, that of many other leading players – to quickly move on from a victory in the Farmers Insurance Open in California to travel across 11 time zones to play in this week’s inaugural Saudi International on the European Tour.

The lure of greenbacks has enticed quite the field for the tournament in Saudi Arabia, with four of the world’s top five players – Rose, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau – on the time sheet. The odd man out is Justin Thomas, the world number four, who has decided it would be far more fun to stay on home turf for the Phoenix Open.

To have an international trip fit in the schedule really well, and also it gets one of my European Tour events out of the way very, very early.

Rose – who solidified his place atop the world rankings with an impressive win in San Diego – justified crossing so many time zones to play by explaining it enabled him to add another tournament onto his schedule to fulfil his European Tour membership obligations.

“Obviously I commit to playing my minimum on the European Tour and I’ve always wanted to take a bit of time off in February. Those types of trips are very difficult to make when you golf if you’re going to come straight back to the States and try and keep the momentum going. But I’m taking three weeks off after it, so to have an international trip fit in the schedule really well, and also it gets one of my European Tour events out of the way very, very early.”

He added: “There’s other reasons to go play it. It’s a good field, there’s going to be a lot of world ranking points to play for, [AND]by all accounts it’s a good golf course and it will be an experience to experience Saudi Arabia.”

Controversy

The European Tour’s move into Saudi Arabia – adding another Arab country onto a schedule that already features big-money tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Oman and Qatar – was taken prior to the controversy which arose following the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last year, and tour officials have sought to separate that incident from sporting matters.

As European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, speaking to the Golf Channel in the US, explained: “Our main focus is on the safety and security of our players and staff. Like many global companies who operate in the region, we monitor the situation . . . having looked at that, and having done our due diligence in terms of the safety and security, we’re obviously moving forward and looking forward to this new chapter on the European Tour.”

Rose is the headline act in this newest of the Arabic tour venues, as he seeks to carry the momentum of his latest win with him. Of his latest success, Rose admitted winning on a venue like Torrey Pines – where Tiger Woods won the 2008 US Open – gave it added significance: “I always pride myself on the golf courses I’ve been able to win on, and this one is another very great golf course with a lot of history. I love winning on great tests of golf and this one will give some special feelings because of that.”

It’s been a really positive week. When I set the schedule at the start of the year, I wanted to play Hawaii and LA

Rory McIlroy’s second outing of the season gave him a tied-fifth finish and moved him up to 49th in the latest FedEx Cup standings. The Northern Irishman won’t play again until the Genesis Open at Riviera in Los Angeles in three weeks, but intends to have his coach Michael Bannon over to his home in Florida for further work.

Club set-up

McIlroy took the opportunity to visit the Taylor Made facility prior to the tournament to do some further work on his club set-up,and claimed to be happy with the week’s work. “It’s been a really positive week. When I set the schedule at the start of the year, I wanted to play Hawaii and LA. I felt five weeks off in between those (was) a little too much, so I wanted to play somewhere and I’ve always liked the look of Torrey Pines.”

Meanwhile, the R&A’s chief executive Martin Slumbers has responded to concerns raised about the application of the rule which saw China’s Haotong Li receive a two-shot penalty after his caddie briefly positioned himself behind the player on the 18th green of the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

“We have reviewed the Li Haotong ruling made by the European Tour referees and agree that it was correct,” said Slumbers, after European Tour CEO Keith Pelley issued a statement calling it “grossly unfair”.

“There has been some misunderstanding of the new rule and I would point out that it is designed to prevent any opportunity for the caddie to stand behind the player as he begins to take his stance. Whether the player intends to be lined up is not the issue . . . we are continuing to monitor the impact of the new rules but I made it clear to Keith that our focus is very much on maintaining the integrity of the rules for all golfers worldwide,” said Slumbers.

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