While Dustin Johnson welcomes the challenge he will face on the course at the lucrative Saudi International, Phil Mickelson appreciates the financial competition being offered to the established tours, claiming on Wednesday that “everyone in the top 100 has been approached” to play in the new Saudi Arabian-funded Super Golf League.
For the first time, the tournament is an Asian Tour-sanctioned event and despite the hostility of the European and US tours to plans for the Asian Tour to act as a platform for a Saudi-backed Super League, the money on offer has drawn a star-studded field.
Every PGA Tour and the DP World Tour member playing at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club this week had to seek a special release to enter the $5 million event.
Yet the 120 player-field that tees off Thursday includes Johnson, Mickelson, world number eight and Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele, number nine Bryson DeChambeau and 11th-ranked Cameron Smith as well as major winners including Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed.
Mickelson, himself a six-time major winner, is rumoured to be one of the players Golf Saudi is pursuing for the proposed league.
“Everyone in the top 100 of the world has been approached,” he said Wednesday.
“I think everybody is looking at it and seeing parts of it that can really help and benefit their situation, their life, their career, and then there are parts of it that they’re probably concerned with,” Mickelson, who is 51, said.
“I’m appreciative of the fact that there is competition, and that leverage has allowed for a much better environment on the PGA Tour,” he said.
“We would not have the increase in the FedExCup money. We would not have the increase in The Players Championship to $20 million this year if it wasn’t for this threat.”
Return To The Top
Johnson’s last victory came at the Saudi International last year. He has not won since and will tee off Thursday in fifth, a slide that was partly his own choice.
The American took a 14-week break after the CJ Cup in October.
Now he can regain some momentum at an event where he has won twice and finished second once in its first three editions.
Asked if the number one ranking was on his mind, Johnson replied: “Absolutely!”
“I took a break because I felt like I needed it, and I wasn’t really happy with the way I played last year. So, just wanted to kind of reset and prepare for this year.”
The 37-year-old Johnson has been overtaken in the rankings by a younger generation.
The reigning world number one Jon Rahm is 27 years old, number two Collin Morikawa is 24 as is third-ranked Viktor Hovland.
“I feel like the amount of talent in the game of golf right now is incredible. To get to number one and staying at number one is very difficult. You have got to play well every single week. It’s very tough to stay at the top just because of the level of talent of the guys around you,” said Johnson.
“Obviously, since the first year I came, I’ve liked the golf course. I’ve obviously done pretty well here,” he said. “It’s a tournament I enjoy playing.”