World Number One Dustin Johnson is excited to get started at the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, as the American targets a second title at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, a maiden victory of 2021 and a seventh successive winning season.
“It’s a golf course that I thought set up well for me. I like the golf course. It’s a fun course to play. Obviously I’ve had success here the last two years and I enjoy it. It’s been a great week. I think they do a great job hosting this event, and obviously this year, we’ve got a great field. I was excited to come back.”
The 36-year-old won the inaugural Saudi International two years ago and finished runner-up to Graeme McDowell on his title defence in 2020, so he is brimming with confidence heading into his second event of the season and first on the Race to Dubai.
“It’s a golf course where you have to drive it well,” said Johnson. “I mean, you have got a lot of slope in them so you need to be able to control your ball coming into it. But if you drive it well, you can definitely make a lot of birdies just because you can get some short clubs in your hand.
“But I think it’s very important to drive it well here, especially with the rough. Got quite a bit of rough. But there are only two par fives – if you drive it in the fairway, you can reach them, and there are quite a few short holes. Like I said, you’ve got to drive it well, and felt like I drove it well here the last couple years and that’s why I’ve had success.”
Patrick Reed, meanwhile, arrives in Saudi Arabia in flying form having sealed a five-stroke victory last week at the PGA TOUR’s Farmers Insurance Open. The World Number Ten is yet to win in the Middle East but a top three finish at last December’s DP World Tour Championship, Dubai will give him confidence of a maiden regular European Tour win.
“It’s awesome to come over here. The support that this event has and the support that Saudi has given the players, as well as just the Tour, is amazing. For us, coming over and playing and having a golf course that’s continuously gotten better and better each year, and the hospitality is amazing. It’s one of these places you really look forward to coming to and playing.
“For me, it’s always fun coming over and playing on The European Tour. Get away from my comfort zone at home. Now being able to come over, it’s almost making me feel comfortable coming over and play on The European Tour. It’s one of these things that I call my second home, and to be able to come over and play and support both tours for me means a lot.”
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Phil Mickelson finished in a share of third place at last year’s Saudi International and the 50-year-old is a fan of the layout at Royal Greens, as is Norwegian star Viktor Hovland – whose runner-up finish in Florida last week elevated him to a career-high 12th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“It’s been a long trip obviously but I’m glad to be over here,” said Hovland. “I had a good week last week in San Diego. And just trying to look to continue to build on that. I feel like my game is in great shape and I’ve just got to get adjusted and get ready to start off the week.
“It’s fairly generous off the tee but you still have to drive it pretty well just to get into some good spots where you can be aggressive. I feel like the scores are going to be pretty low this week. The greens are really good. So if you’re hitting the ball close, you can make a lot of putts and make a lot of birdies.
“But the wind picks up at all, it’s going to be interesting. A couple of par threes are pretty solid and some water here and there, as well. So you’ve got to be conservative maybe on some holes and you can attack more on others.”