The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY)

John­son, DeCham­beau, Casey part of Saudi field in Fe­bru­ary

- Sports · Golf · Dustin Johnson · United States of America · Phil Mickelson · London · Jamal Khashoggi · Mohammad bin Salman · Arizona · Arizona State University · France · Patrick Reed · PGA European Tour · Dubai · Paul Casey · Graeme McDowell · Ian Poulter · Justin Rose · Tommy Fleetwood · Henrik Stenson · Shane Lowry

JED­DAH, SAUDIARABI­A » The Saudi In­ter­na­tional in its third year is shap­ing up as one of the strong­est fields on the Euro­pean Tour with com­mit­ments from Masters cham­pion Dustin John­son, U. S. Open win­ner Bryson DeCham­beau and a cu­ri­ous one from Paul Casey.

Tour­na­ment or­ga­niz­ers said on Thurs­day that seven mem­bers of Europe’s last Ry­der Cup team will play the Saudi In­ter­na­tional on Feb. 4-7, the same week as the Phoenix Open on the PGA Tour.

John­son won the in­au­gu­ral Saudi In­ter­na­tional in 2019 and was run­ner-up this year to Graeme McDow­ell. DeCham­beau also played the first year, while Phil Mick­el­son signed up again for 2021 af­ter a tie for third in Saudi last year.

The sur­prise was Casey, who made it a point of say­ing he would not be play­ing when the tour­na­ment be­gan in 2019. He noted his spon­sor­ship of UNICEF, which is on his golf bag, and said he would pre­fer to “sit this one out.” In an in­ter­view with the Lon­don-based In­de­pen­dent that spring, how­ever, Casey said, “I would be a hyp­ocrite” if he re­ceived ap­pear­ance money to play the Saudi In­ter­na­tional.

Play­ers were crit­i­cized for go­ing, es­pe­cially the first year, be­cause it was held some three months af­ter the killing of Ja­mal Khashoggi, who wrote crit­i­cally of Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man in col­umns for The Wash­ing­ton Post. John­son said he was go­ing to play golf, not sup­port the gov­ern­ment. “I’m not a politi­cian.

I’m a golfer,” he said in 2019.

Mick­el­son was crit­i­cized in part for skip­ping the Phoenix Open, where he is among the big­gest draws as a past cham­pion and Ari­zona State grad­u­ate.

For the Euro­peans, a strong field could go a long way to­ward their bid to make the Ry­der Cup team through world rank­ing points. Europe’s qual­i­fi­ca­tion process was frozen when the matches were post­poned un­til Septem­ber 2021 be­cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. It re­sumes in Jan­uary.

“With Ry­der Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion on the line, I am ob­vi­ously look­ing to get my cam­paign off to a fast start and get­ting a de­cent fin­ish or win­ning the Saudi In­ter­na­tional against such a stel­lar field would be mas­sive,”

Ian Poul­ter said. “It’s been a re­ally weird year with COVID, so we are all look­ing for­ward to a fresh start in 2021.”

Casey re­newed his mem­ber­ship with the Euro­pean Tour to play in the 2018 Ry­der Cup. Oth­ers from that win­ning team in France who have com­mit­ted to the Saudi In­ter­na­tional are Poul­ter, Justin Rose, Ser­gio Garcia, Tommy Fleet­wood, Tyrrell Hat­ton and Hen­rik Sten­son.

The field will have three reign­ing ma­jor cham­pi­ons, with Bri­tish Open cham­pion Shane Lowry also play­ing. Pa­trick Reed is go­ing for the third straight year. He fin­ished 56th the first year and missed the cut in Jan­uary. Reed cur­rently leads the Race to Dubai with the fi­nal event two weeks away.

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