Increased military tensions casts doubt over US players for 'Desert Swing'
Fears are growing of a mass withdrawal of the top American players from the European Tour's Desert Swing because of the threat of reprisals in the Gulf region in the wake of heightened military tensions between America and Iran.
Brooks Koepka, the world No 1, is due to play in Abu Dhabi next week, alongside countryman Patrick Cantlay, and the Tour was confident that the impressive entry list - also featuring Shane Lowry - would be unaffected by the escalating military tensions.
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However, Bryson DeChambeau has since revealed his doubts about appearing at the $7million Rolex Series event. "I seriously may not be going to Abu Dhabi," the world No 15 said on a social-media stream. "All this talk, no American is able to go over to that area. Insane, brother. Protecting the country, though, I love it."
DeChambeau is also due to play the Dubai Desert Classic the following week and Koepka will return the next week at the Saudi International, where he will be joined by Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau and Patrick Reed.
These US Ryder Cup players have all been lured to the Middle East by millions of dollars in appearance fees as the European Tour makes a fist of proving it can still be an attractive alternative to the PGA Tour, despite Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy staying away to launch their Masters preparations in America.
The Gulf region is vital for the Tour's ongoing prosperity and Wentworth HQ will be loath to cancel or even postpone. But there is a precedent.
In November, the Hong Kong Open was called off at the 11th hour because of the long-running protests in the city, with the Tour citing the "safety" of the players and staff. Six weeks on, the $1million event finally tees off today, with the Tour keen to stress that it will make no compromise in this regard.
A spokesperson for the Tour said: "The safety of our players, staff and everyone involved in all our tournaments around the world remains our top priority. The European Tour constantly monitors situations in all our host countries, taking advice from the relevant agencies where appropriate, and we will continue to do so."
The Tour sent an email to its players yesterday, assuring them that next week's tournament would go ahead, but that is believed to have been sent before Iran threatened to "unleash Hezbollah" across the Gulf.
According to NBC News, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps mentioned the United Arab Emirates in its ultimatum on Tuesday night in the wake of missile strikes on US bases in western Iraq.
© Daily Telegraph, London