Ian Poulter’s flying finish last week kept the each-way returns ticking over for the new year on the European Tour, however once again it was ultimately a disappointment with headline selection Matt Fitzpatrick falling away from the lead after day 1 and 90/1 shot Jason Scrivener finishing a single shot outside the paying places. After Louis Oosthuizen failed to convert a strong chance in Abu Dhabi also, let’s hope it’s third time lucky this week as the European Tour heads to Saudi Arabia for the first time in its history for the inaugural Saudi International.
The final leg of this opening Middle-East swing takes us to the banks of the Red Sea and the recently opened Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), the largest privately-funded new city in the world. We’ll head back to the region at the end of February and early March for the Oman Open and the Qatar Masters, however for now this controversial event concludes our time in the Gulf in what are turbulent political times. We’ll focus on the golf and the tournament here, however suffice it to say that a number of players and commentators alike have given the event a wide berth this week.
Despite the well-documented political and human rights issues in the country, it’s clear that money talks in golf and the $3.5m prize fund has undoubtedly been eclipsed by the appearance fees that have attracted the likes of last week’s winners Justin Rose and Bryson DeChambeau, former OWGR No.1s Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, as well the reigning and former Masters Champions Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia. That investment has created an excellent field though and an intriguing betting market with plenty of long prices driven as a result of these headline names.
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Course Overview. The course at Royal Greens G&CC was opened in 2017 and is the handiwork of Dave Sampson of European Golf Design. A short, coastal par 72 for the members has been tweaked for its European Tour debut with the par-5s on the 9th and 13th holes being converted to long par-4s to create a 7,010 yard par-70 for this week’s event.
Carved from the Saudi Arabian desert landscape, the course is built around 4 lakes with some holes playing towards and alongside the Red Sea itself. As well as the water, native desert areas and waste areas await the errant as well as ‘wadi’ drainage ditches which will be an interesting feature this week. With some dog-leg holes too, the course will demand an element of strategy, however with it being so short its main defence, as is often the case with coastal tracks, is the prevailing wind which isn’t forecast to be particularly strong this week. The course uses Royal Dynasty paspalum grass throughout which, combined with the relatively light winds expected, should encourage some good scoring this week.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for KAEC is here. The tournament should enjoy mild (low 80s Fahrenheit) and dry conditions throughout the 4 days. Winds will be generally light and variable throughout with the breeze peaking at around 10-15mph.
With a new event on a new course, I’d advise all punters to tread carefully this week. The headline names at the top of the market are understandably short-priced with Justin Rose and Bryson DeChambeau joint-favourites at the time of writing at 13/2, however on a new layout in an unfamiliar location there’s no guarantee that any player will hit the ground running, despite how well he’s playing.
The dimensions, geography and composition of the course do give us some clues though as to the type of player who could go well here. Short, coastal courses have formed part of the European Tour schedule for many years with events around the British Isles and also in Holland springing to mind for general comparison. Paspalum greens also offer another angle with events in South Africa such as the Africa Open and Nelson Mandela Championship, as well as those held at Kuala Lumpur GC before it was converted to Bermudagrass greens in 2018. Events on the European Tour held in Mauritius and last year in Oman may also provide some correlation, however being far smaller affairs there’ll be less crossover with this week’s field, particularly at the top end of the market.
I’m playing this week a little cautiously and am backing just 4 players who I think could go well here.