2023 Saudi International Preview, Picks & Analysis
CAMERON YOUNG, one of the hottest properties on the PGA Tour, will tee it up in the Saudi International. He will be joined by fellow PGA Tour players Lucas Herbert, Jhonattan Vegas and Cameron Champ in a move that is certain to raise eyebrows.
Young is the 2022 Rookie of the Year and has been tipped for big things in the game. All four men had to apply for waivers to compete at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, opposite the Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
As expected, the field is full of LIV Golf members, including defending champion Harold Varner III, Phil Mickelson, Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed.
When the field was originally announced it included France’s Victor Perez, a DP World Tour member who won the Abu Dhabi Championship and is looking like a shoo-in for Luke Donald’s European Ryder Cup team. It is interesting to note that he is no longer playing, opting instead to tee it up at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship on the DP World Tour.
Open champion Smith said: “It’s always good to play in a world-class field, I am looking forward to taking on some familiar faces and also competing with the best that the Asian Tour has to offer.” The top 30 players on the Asian Tour will also be in the field.
The tournament has a $5 million purse and is sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, who back LIV Golf. In other words, this is another LIV Golf event in everything but name. So it does make you wonder precisely what the likes of Young, Herbert, Vegas and Champ are doing here - other than taking the opportunity to line their pockets.
Varner III holed a 90-foot putt for eagle on the final hole last year to win in dramatic circumstances. He finished with a 69 to record his second victory worldwide, having previously won the Australia PGA.
Varner faced a tough task to even two-putt for birdie and force a playoff with Bubba Watson. But he went one better, draining a putt that went from one end of the 18th green to the other. Varner threw his putter to the ground and pumped his arms to celebrate.
“There’s been times where it just didn’t go my way and today it did,” Varner said. “Worst-case scenario, we’ll go to a playoff and I’d get him there. And then it went in, and emotions came out. I love that.”
Varner finished at 13-under 267. The victory moved him into the top 50 in the world rankings for the first time.
(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)
Johnson is a two-time winner of this tournament and has also finished second. He said: “I always look forward to returning to this event, I have fond memories here and really like the course. It suits my game very well and I love the challenge that the wind off the Red Sea can bring on the back nine.
“This is the fifth consecutive year I’ve returned to Saudi Arabia and it’s been amazing to see the growth and interest in the game since 2019. You can see the interest level rising by the year in Saudi and it has been awesome to help introduce a sport I love to a new audience.”
Watson will also return to competitive play after a season-ending knee injury last May. The two-time Masters champion held the clubhouse lead last year until Varner holed that outrageous putt. He said: “I’d obviously love to go one better this year but mainly I’m hoping for a healthy restart to competitive golf and want to get some solid rounds under my belt around a beautiful golf course. I always look forward to going back to this event.”
It was won in 2019 and 2021 by Dustin Johnson, in 2020 by Graeme McDowell and last year by Harold Varner III.
Cameron Smith has become a serial winner. He enjoyed an incredible time before defecting to LIV Golf, winning the Tournament of Champions, Players Championship and Open Championship. He then moved to LIV, won one his second start and finished the year by claiming the Australian PGA Championship. He is the man to beat.
Royal Greens opened in 2017. It is a par 72 measuring 7,010 yards and features plenty of water hazards, large greens and, unsurprisingly, a lot of sand.
Cameron Smith. Will surely carry on where he left off
Cameron Young. The real deal
Dustin Johnson. Loves this course
Five to Follow:
Cameron Smith. Has every shot in the book
Cameron Young. First win can’t be far away
Dustin Johnson. Looking for third win here
Lucas Herbert. Quality player
Harold Varner. Defending champion
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Tags: Preview Picks LIV Golf Asian Tour