Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka big names booked in for Saudi International return

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Defending champion Dustin Johnson and world No1 Brooks Koepka have confirmed their return to the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, taking place in King Abdullah Economic City at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club from January 30 2020.

World No3 Johnson, raced to a two-shot victory to claim his first regular European Tour title at the inaugural championship earlier this year, using it as a springboard for further dominant displays this season.

After prevailing in Saudi Arabia, the 35-year-old American captured his sixth World Golf Championship by four strokes at the WGC-Mexico Championship, recorded runner-up finishes at the Masters and the PGA Championship, as well as chalking up three further top 10 finishes.

He will be joined in the Kingdom by Koepka, who will return to Royal Greens Golf & Country Club after another stellar season that has seen him claim a fourth Major title at the US PGA Championship, in addition to a maiden WGC title at the Fed-Ex St Jude Classic.

The tournament, which will feature on the European Tour schedule for the second year in 2020, continues to showcase its intent to become a leading event on the golfing calendar. Johnson and Koepka are the first global stars to join the field, which will compete for a prize fund of US$3.5m.

H.E. Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Chairman of Golf Saudi, said: “Dustin and Brooks are two of the best players in the world and we are extremely pleased to welcome them back to the Kingdom. Last year was the first step towards realising our dream of opening Saudi Arabia up to the world and showcasing the beginnings of our vision for the country. Royal Greens Golf & Country Club proved to be an impressive host venue last year and we are excited to be welcoming back more of the world’s best players to King Abdullah Economic City in January.”

Johnson, who fired a course-record round of 61 en-route to victory, said: “I really enjoyed my trip to Saudi Arabia last year and my game certainly suited the layout at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club. I have very good memories from the week and look forward to defending my title next year. It’s great to see how Golf Saudi has strengthened its commitment to create a world-class golf event and its plans to grow golf in the region are in full swing. It’s an honor to be a part of it.”

Four-time major champion Koepka added: “I’m excited to be returning to Saudi Arabia, after an enjoyable visit last year. The golf course is one of the best I’ve played in the region, with incredible scenery, including some breathtaking views of the Red Sea. The event is an opportunity to showcase the work being done to grow the game of golf in the Kingdom, which was evidenced by the enthusiastic fans last year. It is great to be involved with the initiative and I look forward to seeing the progress Golf Saudi has made in the past year.”

Royal Greens Golf & Country Club lies along the spectacular Red Sea coastline and boasts a championship golf course, state-of-the-art clubhouse and world-class practice facilities, alongside stunning residential and recreational facilities.

Aiming to attract the best players in the world, the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers will place a special focus on families, community, charity and junior development as the Kingdom looks to develop its golfing pedigree.

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English duo Ian Poulter and Paul Casey big climbers in Race to Dubai rankings

Sport360 staff 26/02/2019
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Ian Poulter moved up the rankings after a share of third with compatriot Paul Casey.

The first World Golf Championship of the year saw a handful of players climb the Race to Dubai rankings with Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and English duo Ian Poulter and Paul Casey finishing the week as the highest placed European Tour members in a share of third place.

They were 10 shots behind champion Dustin Johnson who finished on 21 under par.

Poulter, who secured his fourth consecutive top ten finish in his last four European Tour starts, came into the final day on the back of impressive rounds of 68, 68 and 69 before adding his third 68 of the week with a brilliant display of putting on the back nine after a one over par front nine dropped him down the leaderboard at Club de Golf Chapultepec.

With his tied third finish, the Englishman picks up 465.3 Race to Dubai points to jump up from 10th to second.

“I took a week off to go skiing before going home to hit some balls which didn’t really go very well,” said the Ryder Cup star.

“I didn’t feel great when I arrived here so I didn’t do an awful lot of putting, to be honest. So, I don’t really know why I putted nicely this week. I think my pace was good. I felt comfortable with the speed of the greens and the way they sloped.

Paul Casey is 15th in the Race to Dubai rankings.

Paul Casey is 15th in the Race to Dubai rankings.

“My last three starts were sixth, third, sixth, so I was going six, three, six, three right? It’s good, it’s a great finish. I’m happy where my golf is, I’m happy where everyone else is, and I’m just enjoying myself.”

In contrast to the four impressive rounds from Poulter, Casey only picked up one shot from his opening two rounds after a 71 and 72 but found another gear at the weekend with superb back-to-back 65s to join his fellow countryman and Aphibarnrat in third place.

Both players enter the Race to Dubai Rankings on 465.3 points which leaves them tied 15th.

“My game feels really good,” said Casey after his first European Tour start of the season. “It was a big tournament with a lot of points on offer and playing a limited schedule between both tours, it’s important I capitalise in events like this.

“I want to be in the thick of things and maybe in with a chance to win a Race to Dubai as well, that would be really fun. So, big stuff. Game’s good, looking forward to it.”

Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia finished one shot further back to share sixth place with PGA Tour members Cameron Smith and Patrick Cantlay. The Spaniard collects 270 Race to Dubai points and jumps up to 11th in the rankings.

Former Race to Dubai leader David Lipsky and this week’s Oman Open defending champion Joost Luiten were the next best placed European Tour players as they took a slice of 10th with American duo Tiger Woods and Keegan Bradley.

The pair pick up 161.1 points which sees Luiten move up one place to eighth while Lipsky remains in sixth.

The top 50 players in the Race to Dubai rankings will contest the season-ending DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai from November 21-24 where US$3 million will be up for grabs for the winner, making it the richest prize in world golf.

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Haotong Li continues to make strides following second place at Saudi International

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Haotong Li's reputation continues to soar after second place in Saudi.

The inaugural Saudi International powered by SBIA saw several players making strong strides in the Race to Dubai with Haotong Li chief among them.

The rising Chinese star finished runner-up to Dustin Johnson in the historic event at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.

While American Johnson put in a silky display, which included a second round 61, to take the €508,260 winner’s cheque after a captivating final round duel with playing partner Li, the 23-year-old put the disappointment of a late rules infringement penalty at last week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic behind him to finish two strokes back at 17 under par.

That saw him claim 472 Race to Dubai points in the process to move 68 places from 77th to ninth place in the European Tour’s season-long rankings.

Having entered the final round tied for the lead at 16 under par, there was little to separate the pair over the front nine. Two-time European Tour winner Li got his nose in front with a birdie on nine but Johnson hit back with consecutive birdies on 11 and 12.

Dustin Johnson has started well in 2019.

Dustin Johnson has started well in 2019.

Li’s chance looked to have gone when he dropped shots on the 13th and 14th before Johnson opened the door again with a bogey on 16.

But the 2016 US Open champion showed his class with a birdie-birdie finish over the final two holes while Li served further notice of his world-beating potential by calmly rolling in a five foot birdie putt at the last to secure solo second place.

“I think he deserved to win this event,” said Li who had been docked two strokes on the final hole at Emirates Golf Club last week for breaking one of the game’s new rules which says a caddie cannot stand behind a player when he lines up to take a putt – the penalty saw Li drop from tied third to tied 12th.

“It was a very good match, especially the front nine. I wasn’t my best, but I learned a lot and especially those last few holes, it was good for me. I’m very happy to finish solo second this week.”

England’s Tom Lewis produced a blistering final round of 65 which began with five birdies in a row to take third place on 16 under par, claiming 266 points to move from 30th to 11th in the Race to Dubai as the Kingdom hosted its first ever professional golf event.

“I was happy with that,” said the two-time European Tour winner. “We did really well, me and (caddie) John, working out some numbers. I was able to hole the putts and I couldn’t have asked for a better start. Unfortunately, I didn’t kick on from there.

Bryson DeChambeau won the Dubai Desert Classic.

Bryson DeChambeau won the Dubai Desert Classic.

“Hopefully if I can just start better and then carry on doing what I’m doing when I do shoot 1-over, then maybe I’ll walk away with a trophy.”

Australia’s Min Woo Lee entered the Race to Dubai in 28th position after taking fourth place at 15 under par in his first event of the season while France’s Alexander Levy made a huge leap from 161st to 30th after finishing one stroke back in fifth.

Dubai Desert Classic winner Bryson DeChambeau put in another solid display to share sixth place with Ryan Fox, Ian Poulter and Scott Hend at 11 under.

The American moves from fourth place to third in the rankings while New Zealand’s Fox leaps from 72nd to 34th, Australian Hend progresses from 33rd to 25th, and Englishman Poulter solidifies 10th position.

The top 60 players in the Race to Dubai rankings will contest the season-ending DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai from November 21-24.

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