King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia
Winner: Dustin Johnson
About the only routine element of the inaugural Saudi International was two-stroke victory for Dustin Johnson. The event, a first in Saudi Arabia on the European Tour, courted controversy for merely taking place amid concerns about human rights issues in the host country and the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi the previous October.
After winning the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines the previous Sunday, World No. 1 Justin Rose said: “I’m a pro golfer, not a politician,” before making the journey to Royal Greens, on the Red Sea coast at King Abdullah Economic City. He then missed the cut.
A strong field also included Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia. However, the Spaniard became the first player to be disqualified under new Rule 1.2a for serious misconduct. Out early in the third round, Garcia showed his displeasure for the tricky greens, laid only 18 months earlier, by inflicting a divot on the sixth green and leaving scuff marks from his golf shoes on four others. Players in the four subsequent groups alerted officials and European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley spoke to Garcia after the round. In a statement, Garcia said: “I respect the decision of my disqualification. I damaged a couple of greens, for which I apologize for, and I have informed my fellow players it will never happen again.” Pelley later suggested there would be no further action taken.
Haotong Li, who suffered a two-shot penalty for his caddie standing behind his line on the final green in Dubai, scored a 62 in the third round which included four eagles, three of them at par-fours. Tied with Johnson after 54 holes, Li closed with a 69 having briefly led at the turn.
Johnson opened with a 68 and then scored his lowest ever round with a 61 on Friday. A 65 and then a 67 gave him a 19-under-par total of 261. The American was two ahead when he hit his tee shot at the short 16th into the Red Sea on the left of the green. He made a bogey but birdied the last two holes to claim his sixth European Tour title. Tom Lewis, who birdied the first five holes in a 65, was third, while Min Woo Lee, brother of Minjee Lee, had a 63 to be fourth in his second start as a professional.