Golf form expert Barry Plummer casts his eye over the European Tour's finest
The European Tour’s Middle East swing moves onto the Saudi International this week and there’s a host of PGA Tour stars in attendance, including World No 1 Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson, as well as last week’s winners Patrick Reed and Paul Casey.
Saudi International: The details
Venue: Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia
Date: February 4-7, 2021
Course stats: Par 70; 7,010 yards
Course summary: This short, strategic coastal track is not dissimilar in many ways to the other desert courses we have seen on the European Tour’s Middle East swing. The sea breeze and large, sandy waste areas are the main defence, protecting the fairly generous Paspalum fairways and huge undulating greens. Some dogleg holes and numerous lakes will require some shot shaping from the players, while scrambling has been an important measure for success in recent years.
Purse: $3.5 million
Defending champion: Graeme McDowell (-12)
Saudi International: TV coverage
Thursday: Sky Sports Golf at 8am and 11.30am; Sky Sports Main Event from 1pm
Friday: Sky Sports Golf at 8am and 11.30am; Sky Sports Main Event from 1pm
Saturday: Sky Sports Golf from 9.30am
Sunday: Sky Sports Golf from 9.30am
Saudi International: Dialled In
Once again I was joined on the Dialled In podcast by Steve Carroll as I discuss my picks for the Saudi International.
You can listen to that here or on your preferred podcast platform. Just search ‘The NCG Podcast’.
Saudi International: Staking plan
Sergio Garcia – 2pt e/w @ 25/1 with Bet365
The Spaniard’s performances on tricky, windy courses are impressive, with far too many to highlight in this preview, but his form has also improved recently. Garcia was 6th last week in Dubai, continuing a solid run of form on desert tracks over recent years which includes a 6th place in this event 12 months ago.
Last week Garcia dazzled from the tee once more, ranking 2nd in the field for SG: Off-the-Tee. This wasn’t the only impressive statistic to take from the Emirates Golf Club, as he also ranked 13th for SG: Approach and the same for GIR. In the last three months, his performances around the green have seen him rise to 5th among his peers, and that finesse and creativity could make all the difference here.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout – 1.5pt e/w @ 40/1 with Bet365
After highlighting him as one to watch in my first preview of the season, I cannot ignore Bezuidenhout thanks to his continued excellent run of form. Since winning twice in South Africa, Bezuidenhout has played three times in the desert with form reading 14-12-22. Opening with a 74 last week, he then posted three solid rounds and his statistics set him up perfectly for Saudi. He ranked 9th for SG: Approach, 17th for SG: Tee-to-Green and 5th for Scrambling, with his golf improving round-on-round. This is a continuation of last season’s top quality performances, where he ranked 1st for SG: Total on the European Tour.
A T21 finish at this event last year gives him a solid base to build on, and when you consider he has a win at Valderrama, solid desert form across his career, and a T28 finish at Harbour Town in 2019, he has the perfect profile to challenge.
Shane Lowry – 1pt e/w @ 50/1 with Bet365
The current Champion Golfer of the Year will no doubt be disappointed with a closing 75 in Dubai last week, but his third round performance demonstrated an ability to play somewhere close to his best golf after a patchy year. His bogey-free 67 on Saturday had him ranked 3rd for Driving Accuracy, 3rd for GIR, and 1st for Scrambling. Those figures were a relatively accurate portrayal of his form over the entire event, ranking 10th in SG: Off-the-Tee, 3rd for GIR and 30th for SG: Around-the-Green.
Lowry also has some interesting form on courses that require a similar profile and skillset. He performed excellently at a similarly windy, coastal course when 3rd at the RBC Heritage and has had a runner-up finish at the tricky Valderrama, which is a venue where current champion Graeme McDowell has won before. As an Open champion, especially in adverse conditions at Royal Portrush, he will not be phased by blustery conditions if they occur and they may even play into his hands. As a previous winner in the desert, I like his chances this week.
Thomas Detry – 1pt e/w @ 70/1 with Bet365
As perhaps one of the best players yet to win a European Tour title, Detry will have fancied his chances when leading at halfway in Dubai. Things didn’t work out for the Belgian in the end, slipping to 9th place over the weekend. Despite a disappointing couple of rounds, he still ranked inside the top-10 for GIR on both days and will be able to take some positives into this event. Detry led the field for scrambling over the first two rounds, and was 7th for SG: Around-the-Green for the tournament, which is something he will be hoping to carry over to Royal Greens to support his challenge.
In fact, his performance over the weekend cast a cloud over what was a very solid performance. Detry ranked 24th for SG: Off-the-Tee and 4th for GIR, with his putting being the only area for improvement. A 33rd place finish at the Corales Punta Cana Championship on Paspalum surfaces is interesting, as defending champion Graeme McDowell won there in 2019. He was also 6th here last year, 8th at Valderrama in 2019, and runner-up at a windy Celtic Manor last summer. This type of form on similar tracks, partnered with his undoubted talent, make him a solid each-way selection.
Laurie Canter – 1pt e/w @ 80/1 with Bet365
Canter is starting to really show his class on the European Tour, and is quickly growing his reputation on this stage. Since August 2020, Canter has eight top-15 finishes from 14 events, more than 50% of all starts, including two runner-up finishes and three further top 5s. The 31-year-old secured a 4th place finish in Dubai last week, with a performance that saw him ranked 3rd for SG; Off-the-Tee, 1st for GIR and 2nd for Birdies per Round. This certainly isn’t a flash in the pan, as Canter ranked 1st for SG: Off-the-Tee, 19th for SG: Tee-to-Green, and 3rd for Birdies per Round last season.
The Englishman will not be phased by the quality of the field this week, having already finished 5th in elite company at the DP World Tour Championship in December. There are a lot of reasons to like this selection at this sort of price, and I wouldn’t back against him continuing his impressive run of form.
For more prices, visit Bet365.