European Ryder Cup stars take aim on 2021 Saudi International

Ian Poulter is returning next February for the 2021 Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers with a higher finish up the leaderboard than this year’s tournament. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 November 2020

European Ryder Cup stars take aim on 2021 Saudi International

  • The February tourney looks set to be one of the strongest events on European Tour schedule

JEDDAH: European Ryder Cup stars Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood join defending champion Graeme McDowell in looking to get their campaign to qualify for the 2021 European Ryder Cup team off to the strongest possible start at the Saudi International.

The tournament, powered by Softbank Investment Advisers, will take place  Feb. 4 -7 at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City.

With world No. 1 and 2020 Masters champion Dustin Johnson and 2020 US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau confirmed for the event, along with reigning Open champion Shane Lowry and US stars Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed, the strength of the field means huge ranking points will be on offer for Europe’s leading golfers as they look to get their 2021 qualifying efforts off to a fast start and secure a coveted place on the 2021 European Ryder Cup team.

With a lineup that looks set to ensure that the Saudi International will be one of the strongest events on the 2021 European Tour schedule, Golf Saudi is looking to build on the momentum resulting from hosting two extremely successful Ladies European Tour events this month as interest and participation in golf continues to grow in the Kingdom.

Fleetwood, a six-time winner on the European Tour and standout player in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory in Paris in 2018, is making his debut this year in the Saudi International. He said: “From all I’ve heard from the lads who played there the last couple of years, the Saudi International has established itself as one of the leading events on the European Tour both in terms of set up and facilities as well as quality of the field, which is really impressive this year.”

Poulter, who played for the first time in the 2020 edition, said: “I really enjoyed the tournament at the beginning of this year and am psyched to be returning next February. The course sets up for my game rather nicely so I was pretty frustrated to only finish in the top 20 and will certainly be aiming to finish rather higher up the leaderboard this year!

“It’s a fantastic championship course with some amazing vistas and I also really like the fact we get to play a part in introducing golf to a whole new audience in a new region. With Ryder Cup qualification on the line, I am obviously looking to get my campaign off to a fast start and getting a decent finish or winning the Saudi International against such a stellar field would be massive.

“It’s been a really weird year with the pandemic so we are all looking forward to a fresh start in 2021 and I am hoping it is also a strong start as I keep my eyes firmly focused on qualifying for the European team at Whistling Straits,” he added.

Majed Al-Sorour, CEO of the Saudi Golf Federation and Golf Saudi, said: “This announcement marks yet another amazing group of golf stars joining our 2021 field and the excitement of all the players to kick off afresh in 2021, in Saudi Arabia, is heartening to hear.

“The lineup for the tournament is looking strong and with more players still to be announced in the coming weeks — and on the back of two excellent Ladies European Tour events earlier this month — we are very much looking forward to the third edition of our tournament. We believe it will be the strongest installment to date and will serve as a fabulous illustration that Saudi Arabia is open for business.”

COVID-19 problems mount for Australian Open as four more participants test positive

Updated 18 January 2021

COVID-19 problems mount for Australian Open as four more participants test positive

  • Officials said more cases may come to light as testing continues
  • ‘It’s time to be selfish, time for Victoria to put ourselves first’

MELBOURNE: More players were forced into hard quarantine ahead of the Australian Open with officials confirming on Monday that four additional participants, including an athlete, tested positive for COVID-19 among those arriving in Melbourne.
Health authorities in Victoria state have now reported nine infections among passengers who arrived on charter flights for the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open and officials said more cases may come to light as testing continues.
“All four are associated with the tennis, and they’re all tucked away safely in hotel quarantine,” Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews told reporters of the new cases.
Passengers on three Australian Open charter flights were sent into hard quarantine, including over 70 players who will be unable to train for 14 days ahead of the year’s first Grand Slam.
Players have come up with unique ways to pass time and stay fit in isolation with some hitting balls against a mattress and running sprints in corridors.
Others are allowed five hours outside their hotel rooms each day for preparation, in line with arrangements made by organizers Tennis Australia with health authorities.
But several among those, including Australia’s top-ranked player Alex de Minaur, were unable to train on courts on Monday due to logistics issues with transport.
De Minaur, who returned home after winning an ATP title in Turkey last week, posted a video on Instagram of himself sitting at the front door of his hotel room dressed fully in his practice attire.
“It’s been a challenging few days as we’ve worked with the relevant authorities managing the logistics to ensure everyone is safe as practice begins,” TA said in a statement, adding that transport issues were later sorted out.
“Our team is continuing to work with the authorities to help in any way we can. We understand this has been frustrating for the players and apologize.”
The growing infection count has sparked calls from pundits to cancel the Grand Slam.
“It’s time to be selfish, time for Victoria to put ourselves first,” 3AW radio broadcaster Neil Mitchell said.
“Call off the Australian Open. It’s not worth the risk.”
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley said on Sunday the tournament would start as scheduled.
Many Australians have questioned the decision to host the tournament with organizers flying in 1,200 tennis players and their entourages Down Under when thousands of citizens are stranded overseas due to the pandemic.
Andrews said the government still supported holding the Grand Slam and backed health officials to deliver it safely.
“We think we’ve struck the appropriate balance,” he said.
“If there was a sense from the public health team that that balance could not be struck, that it was too high a risk, well then we wouldn’t have had the event.”
Some players complained about quarantine conditions and said they had not been advised that they would not be allowed to train if there were cases on their flights.
Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, however, apologized after social media users hit out at her for criticizing the strict health protocols.
Two-time men’s wheelchair Grand Slam champion Gordon Reid said those “kicking up a fuss” are in a minority.
A Spanish tennis website reported that world number one Novak Djokovic had written to Tiley asking that quarantine restrictions be eased for players, including reducing the mandatory 14 days of isolation and having players moved to “private houses with tennis courts” so they could train.
The report drew a backlash from Australians on social media, with Djokovic and players told to check their “privilege.”
Andrews said the biosecurity protocols would not be changed.
“It doesn’t mean that everyone likes them, but that’s not the world we’re in,” he said. “This is a wildly infectious pandemic. There are rules that need to be followed.”
Tennis Australia and Djokovic’s team did not respond to request for comment.
Australia’s biggest outbreak of COVID-19 started from returned travelers infecting staff at quarantine hotels in Melbourne last year but border closures and speedy tracking systems helped keep numbers relatively low.
The country has reported a total of more than 28,600 cases and some 909 deaths since the pandemic began.