Saudi International Preview, Picks & Analysis
MASTERS champion and world No1 Dustin Johnson heads a star-studded field at the third edition of the Saudi International that will feature 13 major champions and 29 Ryder Cup players. Between them, the competitors boast more than 900 tournament victories.
Kevin Na, who won the recent Sony Open, will be making his first trip to Saudi Arabia and will be playing in his first European Tour event since 2015. He joins a list of American players which includes Johnson, US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed and Tony Finau.
"The more I heard about the player field for the Saudi International the more I felt like I didn't want to miss out," said Na. The depth and strength of the field in Saudi is what really appealed to me. I haven't played in many European Tour events in recent years, so I am really looking forward to getting back out there and visiting Saudi Arabia for the first time.”
Na and his compatriots will be vying to become the second American to win the Saudi International after Dustin Johnson in 2019, but will face stiff competition from a European contingent that includes Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter, Viktor Hovland, Lee Westwood, Bernd Wiesberger, Danny Willett and Matt Wallace along with defending champion Graeme McDowell.
Reigning Open champion Shane Lowry, 2013 US Open winner and Olympic champion Justin Rose, 2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson and 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia will also be looking to get their year off to a good start as they aim to secure their places in the European Ryder Cup team for Whistling Straits.
Lowry has made no secret of his ambition to qualify for his first Ryder Cup, saying; “I really do want to get off to a fast start in 2021 and try and secure my place in the team early if possible! I can’t imagine how stressful it will be if I am outside qualifying for the team as we get closer to the final qualifying events. The Saudi International is going to be huge week for us all in terms of the strength of field and world ranking points available with so many of the world’s top ranked playing, so a decent finish is going to make a major impact on our qualification chances.”
Hovland is a rising star of world golf and, at 23-years-old, he sits at a career high ranking of 14th in the World Rankings after his second PGA Tour win. Hovland only turned professional in 2019 after finishing as low amateur at the 2019 Masters and the 2019 US Open and reaching the top of the Amateur World Rankings.
His transition into the professional ranks has been hugely impressive and he will make his debut in Saudi Arabia as he too joins the ranks of the European Ryder Cup hopefuls looking to secure their place at Whistling Straits.
“My first full year as a professional, even given all the Covid-related difficulties, has been really amazing," said Hovland. "I would never have dreamt that I would already have two PGA TOUR titles and winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic was the perfect way to finish up the year. As a European, trying to get my first European Tour victory will definitely be high on my agenda for 2021 and of course, trying to win my place on the European Ryder Cup team.
"I’ve only played in about six European Tour events in total so I am excited to add some into my schedule and the Saudi International has the most impressive field of players so I think it’s going to be a huge week.”
Finau is another who says he can’t wait to make his debut in Saudi. “I was unable to make my debut in 2020, so I’m really looking forward to being there alongside an especially world-class field in February," said Finau. "I’ve heard nothing but positive things from my fellow players about their experiences at the tournament and their visit to the kingdom. It should be a great week and I am excited to go.”
Cabrera-Bello has suffered an alarming slump but will be encouraged by his play at the Abu Dhabi Championship and will be looking to continue that, while Rose is desperate for a decent week. After splitting with long-term coach Sean Foley, the Englishman’s game has fallen off a cliff but he has been working hard and it is surely only a matter of time before he contends again. This week would be a good time to start.
The tournament was won in 2019 by Dustin Johnson and last year by Graeme McDowell.
Viktor Hovland. A world-class act
Dustin Johnson. Simply the best
Tommy Fleetwood. Always there or thereabouts
Viktor Hovland. A young man in a hurry
Dustin Johnson. Can win anywhere
Tommy Fleetwood. Overdue a victory
Bryson DeChambeau. Could bring this place to its knees
Tony Finau. Keeps grinding out top 10s
Patrick Reed. Loves playing on the European Tour
Tyrrell Hatton. Can he keep it going?
Shane Lowry. Needs to get his Ryder Cup bid on the road
Rafa Cabrera-Bello. Showing some encouraging signs
Paul Casey. Wonderful ball striker
Be part of the action with a selection of unique golf tournament experiences, from playing in a pro-am with the stars to watching the action at golf’s most illustrious events. Whether it’s the Masters or The Open, The Ryder Cup or WM Phoenix Open, build your own bespoke package with the experts at Golfbreaks.com.
What do you think? leave your comments below (Comments)
Tags: european tour