As the field deepens for the European Tour’s Saudi International, to be played for just the second time this January, it could be to the detriment of a staple event on the PGA Tour calendar. The Saudi tournament runs up against the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Scottsdale on Super Bowl weekend.
Phil Mickelson has been a familiar face at TPC Scottsdale, a venue known for its raucous crowds and the stadium atmosphere around the par-3 16th hole, and arguably one of the most popular players to repeatedly play the event. Mickelson, 49, has announced that he will play in Saudi instead in 2020, according to a Monday news story in the Saudi Gazette.
Already, Saudi International organizers have reportedly secured commitments from defending champion Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson, Shane Lowry and Sergio Garcia (which is another story entirely). With Monday’s announcement, add not just Mickelson but also Tony Finau to that list.
In the run-up to last year’s inaugural Saudi event, players drew criticism for committing to play — and receiving appearance fees for it — in the wake of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
“I am really looking forward to playing in Saudi Arabia in January,” Mickelson told the Saudi Gazette. “I watched Dustin win the title last year and thought the course looked like an interesting challenge. Having so many talented players on show also made it look like a much more established tournament than one in its inaugural year. I have enjoyed my previous visits to the Middle East and am looking forward to playing in a new country and doing my bit to grow the game in the Kingdom.”
Mickelson’s decision is at least a little bit surprising, considering that he is the face of the event. He missed the cut in his debut in 1989 but the 44-time winner on the PGA Tour has played every year since, except 1990, and has virtually rewritten its record book: He now holds or shares 15 tournament scoring records.
In 30 appearances, he has a record-tying three wins, 11 top-10 finishes and a record $4,198,677 in earnings, which is the most he has won at any event in the world. He has shot two rounds of 60, including one with a lip-out putt on the final hole that would have given him a 59, and has recorded 479 birdies or eagles.
Mickelson was a three-time NCAA champion at Arizona State, located about 18 miles south of TPC Scottsdale.
Mickelson’s career includes 10 European Tour victories, though never one in the Middle East. Finau, 30, has never played in the region and has also never won a European Tour event.
“I’ve always believed that to be considered a world-class player, you must compete in premier tournaments around the world,” Finau told the Saudi Gazette. “Playing in Saudi Arabia for the first time will be a great experience, and I’m looking forward to competing against what is already an exceptionally strong field, on what I have learned is a great golf course.”
The Saudi International will be played at Royal Green Golf and Country Club from Jan. 30-Feb. 2.