By Bernie McGuire in Dubai.
The opening event of the 2023 Asian Tour schedule boasts one of the strongest fields of any Tour of the New Year if the number of major champions competing is an indication.
The second Asian Tour hosting of the PIF Saudi Invitational will feature 12 major champions in the limited 126-player field taking to the stunning Royal Greens course laid out along the Red Sea at King Abdullah Economic City, and around 100 kms north of Jeddah.
That’s one major champion more than the field that competed earlier this month at the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions while there were only two major winners featuring in the Hero Cup, six competed in last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and seven majors champs are in Dubai.
The major winners headed to Saudi Arabia next week include:
Masters Winners – Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia
PGA Championship – Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka
US Open – Graeme McDowell, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau
Open Championship – Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson, Cameron Smith
It will be the fifth hosting of the $US5m Asian Tour event that from 2019 to 2021 was sanctioned by the European Tour.
There are nine different categories making up the field of only 126 players.
Category 1 comprises 25 invitations headed by Thailand’s Kiradeck Aphibarnrat and also including the DP World Tour’s ‘Mr. 59’ Oliver Fisher along with England’s Tom Lewis and India’s Shiv Kapur.
Category 2 includes former champions Harold Varner 111 (2022), Graeme McDowell (2020) and Dustin Johnson (2019 and 2021).
Category 3 includes 43 players ranked in the Top-200 on World Rankings headed by current World No. 4 and reigning Open Champion Cam Smith of Australia. Not all in this category are LIV Golf members such as Aussie Lucas Herbert, finishing 59th on the 2022 Race to Dubai and being afforded a release to tee-up in Saudi.
Category 4 is LIV Exemptions and including Phil Mickelson, Charles Howell 111 along with Pat Perez and Chase Koepka
Category 5 features five players classed as pre-qualifiers and headed by Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond.
Category 6 has been reserved for the Korean PGA winner Yeongsu Kim
Category 7 is a Sunshine Tour category and with Louis de Jager the entrant
Category 8 is allocated the Japan Tour and with 25-year-old Aguri Iwasaki taking the spot.
Category 9 is reserved for the leading 30 players on last year’s Asian Tour money list headed by Thai Nitithorn Thoppong who finished fourth on last year’s money list. Also in this category is Aussie Scott Hend, a 10-time Asian Tour winner and ranked Asian Tour No. 1 in 2016.