This week’s Saudi International tournament once again proves that money talks – well appearance money, in this case – with the tournament’s second coming boasting a strong field of global stars, including reigning Major champions Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, and a hatful of other ‘big four’ winners, including Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Shane Lowry, Danny Willett, Martin Kaymer and last year’s winner, Graeme McDowell.
Throw in Ryder Cuppers Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Tony Finau, and add Norwegian hot-shot Viktor Hovland to the pot, and you have a heady mix of international talent on display at one of the most unlikely golfing destinations in the world.
Last year saw McDowell pop up from nowhere at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club to take down Dustin Johnson in his prime and grab the spoils. His win was all the more surprising given that it’s a course whose wide-open fairways seem to favour big hitters, but McDowell’s gritty determination and impressive short game proved an equally powerful combination.
There is some wind forecast this week, which McDowell won’t mind, but otherwise it’s hard to see the big hitters being kept out of frame this week, with Johnson and DeChambeau justifiably jostling for favouritism with most firms, where those who like an investment might also like to check out new online slots 2021.
Johnson absolutely loves this course, winning the inaugural event here in 2019 and finishing runner-up last year. The American is set to make his first competitive appearance since the Sentry Tournament of Champions back in early January. Don’t expect much rust though, the 36-year-old hasn’t finished worse than 11th since missing the cut with two rounds of 80 at the Memorial last July.
It’s only a couple of months since DeChambeau was a short-priced favourite for the Masters and he’s played only once since disappointing at Augusta, finishing seventh in Hawaii last month with a stone-cold putter. His length alone could see him bully this course into submission and the fact that he was a good sixth here last time, before he properly bulked up, has to be encouraging. At the prices, and in an event where two players stand out, Bryson looks worth sticking with to follow up after fellow troublemaker Patrick Reed won the Farmers Insurance last week.
Elsewhere, Viktor Hovland, whose two PGA Tour wins to date have come on similar playing surfaces to the ones he’ll face in Saudi, will be strongly fancied. This young Norwegian hopped off the plane from Mexico, where he’d just won, to finish third in the DP World Tour Championship last year, and as Paul Casey’s victory showed last week, jet lag really isn’t a big issue for these seasoned travellers, so don’t be put off by his 18-hour flight. Hovland was the only player to really challenge Reed at Torrey Pines before his back-nine stumble, and this would be a fitting venue for a first European Tour win, given those greens and the fact that his form ties in so well with McDowell.
The presence of these high class PGA Tour players means Tommy Fleetwood has been pushed all the way out at 22-1, and he is hard to ignore Lancashire’s finest at that price. Fleetwood has finished 10th, 7th and 17th in his three starts in the Middle East either side of Christmas, contending at some stage in each of them. That he hasn’t appeared to have his best long-game underlines that he has to play very poorly not to be a factor here, and as a two-time winner in Abu Dhabi, with four wins in his last 50 European Tour starts, the numbers look to be in his favour for a solid each-way investment.
TV coverage: Live on Sky Sports for all four days, beginning at 8am UK time on Thursday and Friday, and from 9.30am on Saturday and Sunday.