Wednesday 24 July 2019

Dunne and Power hunt for form as big guns sidestep Saudi row

Paul Dunne . Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Paul Dunne . Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Brian Keogh

Paul Dunne and Seamus Power will be trying to ignore the desert furore and put some points on the board as they tee it up on opposite sides of the globe today.

Dunne joins four of the world's top five in the controversial $3.5m Saudi International, hoping to put missed cuts in his first two events of the season behind him.

Power plays for the first time in the week-long frat-party also known as the Waste Management Phoenix Open having missed six cuts in a row - seven from eight starts this season.

"I wish I had some good excuse, just played very poorly the last few weeks, too many thoughts in the head," confessed the West Waterford man, who has been struggling to bed in swing changes he's made with new coach Nick Bradley.

"Obviously I wasn't able to handle them yet, but I will get it turned around."

Unlike Phoenix, there will be no beer-swilling crowds or scantily clad spring-breakers on view in Saudi Arabia, where Sharia law is in force.

It's caused its share of headaches for the travelling tour circus, with players or caddies who usually share rooms unable to do so unless they are documented family members.

Alcohol is banned - though consumption is allowed on a yacht anchored near the official hotel - and players, caddies and media have been advised to observe local customs, which means that women must cover their shoulders, arms and legs and abstain from tight clothing.

World No 1 Justin Rose and the American trio of Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau have blocked out the noise and reportedly accepted huge appearances fees to tee it up.

It's not that they need the $583,330 top prize, but with 48 world ranking points on offer for the winner compared to 56 in Phoenix where Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele are the leading lights, there's a lot at stake beyond taking a political or moral stance.

"Any time you have the opportunity to play against the best players in the world, it brings added inspiration," said the in-form Rose, explaining why he was going to a country with a questionable human rights record.

"I'm not a politician, I'm a pro golfer."

The field also features China's Li Haotong, who was penalised two strokes on Sunday when he fell foul of the new rule preventing caddies from helping with alignment, even though his caddie was moving to one side as began to take his stance.

With the backing of many tour players, European Tour CEO Keith Pelley said that while the ruling was correct, it was "grossly unfair".

Saudi International,

Live, Sky Sports, 8.0am

Phoenix Open,

Live, Sky Sports, 8.0pm

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