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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: Major-winning US powerhouse golfers Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed have expressed their joy at being back in Saudi Arabia for this week’s third annual Saudi International.
The $3.5 million European Tour event teed-off this Thursday morning and will pit more than 130 of the world’s best players against each other at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) over the weekend.
Each of them will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of past champions Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell by securing the tournament’s 2021 title, with considerable Official Golf World Ranking, Ryder Cup and Olympic qualification points all on the line.
The tournament has also drawn some big names in golf due to both the prestige of past events and the quality of the KAEC set-up.
Many players yesterday admitted to “loving” the Red Sea coast course, with five-time Major champion Phil Mickelson full of praise.
“It’s really a fun golf course to play. I enjoyed it last year. Condition is a 10 out of 10. I don’t think you can get it anymore expertly manicured and set up for an event, so it’s very impressive,” he said ahead of the tournament. “It’s really a fun challenge and when the wind comes up, it’s very playable. I just really enjoy the golf course and enjoy playing here.”
“Lefty” – who finished tied for third in last year’s event – added: “Last year I went down to the Beach Club, went into the Red Sea, played beach volleyball with a bunch of the locals and had a great time. I enjoyed it. And the vision of what is becoming in KAEC and other parts of the country, I would venture it’s going to be spectacular.”
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson – who won the tournament in 2019 before finishing second last year – shared a similar view to his former Ryder Cup teammate.
“I like the golf course. It’s a fun course to play. Obviously, I’ve had success here the last two years and, yeah, I enjoy it. I think they do a great job hosting this event. This year we’ve got a great field. I was excited to come back,” he said:
The 2020 Masters champion explained what he thinks he will have to do to continue his hot streak under the Saudi sun.
“It’s a golf course where you have to drive it well. The greens have a lot of slope in them so you need to be able to control your ball coming into them. But if you drive it well, you can definitely make a lot of birdies because you can get some short clubs in your hand,” he added.
Saudi Arabian fan-favorite Patrick Reed – who has visited local schools on his last two visits to the Kingdom – is predicted to be near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.
The 30-year-old described being able to return to play in KAEC once again as being “awesome.”
He said: “The support that this event has and the support that Saudi has given the players, as well as just the Tour, is amazing. For us, coming over and playing and having a golf course that’s continuously gotten better and better each year – and the hospitality – is amazing. It’s one of these places you really look forward to coming to and playing.”
And that view was echoed by another of the most talked about golfers on the planet, big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau, who returns to Royal Greens Golf & Country Club for the second time.
He said: “It’s an honor to be here. I’m always about growing the game, and I think this is a great opportunity to do it. Majed Al-Sorour and His Excellency have done amazing things for the game around here and I think it’s only going to continue to keep growing. I love the vision they have for the game of golf.
“The golf course itself is in great condition. The greens are in immaculate shape – I love them. They have tightened it up in certain areas from when I was here a couple years ago. But again, I think hitting it long and far is an advantage here and being able to wedge it on to the green is huge.”
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