Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
The strongest European Tour field of the year to date lines up for the inaugural Saudi International with world number one Justin Rose headlining following his victory at Torrey Pines. Dubai Desert Classic winner Bryson DeChambeau stays in the desert for this event while Americans Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka have also been lured to Saudi Arabia.
This will be the players’ first look at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club and the 7,010-yard par 70 has been described as a links-style layout which can be heavily affected by wind. With no course form to go on, it could be worth siding with in-form players that have been competing in Abu Dhabi and Dubai rather than flying across the world for this tournament.
Sergio Garcia fits the bill and the Spaniard looks poised to contend for another European Tour title this weekend. Garcia topped the greens in regulations stats in Dubai as he started and finished with rounds of 66 for a tie for third. He was very positive about his performance and if his putter warms up he will be a huge threat.
This followed on from a top ten in Singapore and continued a rich vein of form since the autumn for Garcia. A strong showing at the Ryder Cup was a major confidence booster and he clinched his third Valderrama Masters win in October. Garcia was then runner-up at the Nedbank Challenge before top-nine finishes at the DP World Tour Championship and Hong Kong. Garcia, who has not finished outside the top ten since August, looks a strong bet at 12/1 each way.
Matt Wallace confirmed his growing reputation on the world stage after finishing runner-up on Sunday in Dubai to set himself up perfectly for this week’s event. The confident English golfer has added consistency to his game with four successive top 20s at the start of this season including his impressive performance in the desert last week.
Wallace has soared up the world rankings after a brilliant 2018 which saw him win three times. The 28-year-old has proved he is a clinical winner and his ruthlessness in contention suggests there will be plenty more titles coming his way. Wallace heads to Saudi Arabia with a swagger, after his performance in Dubai, and warrants support at 20/1.
Thorbjorn Olesen enjoyed the best season of his career last year with the Dane helping Europe win the Ryder Cup. His success included a Rolex Series win in the Italian Open and seven other top tens. A tie for third at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational was further evidence of Olesen’s ability to perform on the big stage.
The 29-year-old has won five times on the European Tour and his record includes victories on coastal courses, such as the Alfred Dunhill Links, which suggests this week’s challenge will suit. Olesen, who warmed up nicely in Dubai with a tie for seventh to send him into this event full of momentum, is a confident selection at 25/1.
Joost Luiten is another proven winner and the Dutchman could take an instant liking to this week’s test. Royal Greens is a European Golf Design – the same course designers behind The Dutch and Celtic Manor which are both venues where Luiten has won. His last victory came just under 12 months ago at the Oman Open at a course which also shares some similarities with this track.
Luiten was forced to miss much of last season with a wrist injury but he made a successful comeback towards the end of last year. The six-time European Tour champion looked in excellent shape recently, finishing third in Abu Dhabi, suggesting he is close to his best. Luiten can challenge for another Middle East title at 40/1 each way.
Paul Waring has made an excellent start to the year and the English golfer looks the pick of the bigger-priced runners in Saudi Arabia. Waring opened up with a tie for sixth place in Abu Dhabi and improved on this by finishing joint third, after a closing 64, in Dubai.
Waring is 28-under-par for his eight rounds in 2019 and comes into this tournament with soaring confidence levels. He claimed his first European Tour victory at the Nordea Masters last summer and the 33-year-old is playing the best golf of his career. With his recent success in the desert, Waring looks worth support at 80/1 each way to feature on the leaderboard for a third successive week.
Sergio Garcia each way 12/1
Matt Wallace each way 20/1
Thorbjorn Olesen each way 25/1
Joost Luiten each way 40/1
Paul Waring each way 80/1