What we learned from the Desert Swing: Dominant Dustin Johnson and sorry Sergio Garcia

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Dustin Johnson become the inaugural winner of the Saudi International on Sunday. (AFP)
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Updated 04 February 2019

What we learned from the Desert Swing: Dominant Dustin Johnson and sorry Sergio Garcia

  • American ace DJ underlines why he could be the man to beat this year.
  • European Tour show lack of backbone after Garcia tantrum.

LONDON: So the Desert Swing is over for another year. This year saw a new tournament in town, the Saudi International completing the trio of Middle-East based battles. Here is what we learned after all birdies, bogeys and booming drives.


The American ace’s win at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club was his first for seven months and once again reminded us and his rivals, if any was needed, that when on song it takes some performance to stop him. Under pressure from the brilliant Haotong Li the world No. 3 did what all greats do when required — turned on his A-game and swatted away the challenge. Two birdies on 17 and 18 illustrated “DJ’s” class and nerveless pursuit of victory. Despite all the tour titles to his name, there is a sense that the 34-year-old has underachieved with only one Major victory. This win and the manner of it sets Johnson up for a successful stab at adding to his Major collection, starting with the Masters in April.


Bar Johnson’s victory, the other talking point from the Saudi International was the disqualification of Sergio Garcia for damaging as many as five greens during a bad-tempered third round. The Spaniard apologized for his actions and said it will not happen again. Those words, however, should not have been the end of the matter. Garcia may be a big-name player but, rather than declare the matter “closed as Tour chief Keith Pelley did, the European Tour had to show that star status does not mean you can get away with anything. It was the time to show it has teeth and issue a meaningful fine and even a ­suspension from the Tour.


The American won by a mammoth seven shots at the Dubai Desert Classic and illustrated why he is golf’s man of the moment. But his uniqueness is both refreshing and annoying. Known as the “scientist,” DeChambeau says he is leaving nothing to chance while out on the fairways and greens. Methodical and mesmerizing in equal measure the American can prove frustrating as well. In an age when golf is trying to speed up play to see the world No.5 take an age over many of his shots — he had a very lengthy discussion with his caddie on a fairly straightforward shot during the final round in Dubai — proved problematic, and not just for the fans. “I just don’t understand how it takes a minute and 20 seconds, a minute and 15 to hit a golf ball; it’s not that hard,” world No. 2 Brooks Koepka said.


The Desert Swing shone a light on two golfers who have struggled over the past few years — Shane Lowry and Tom Lewis. Lowry was brilliant in winning in Abu Dhabi, following that up with a top-15 finish in Dubai. He is now back in the world’s top 50, which is where someone of his talent should be. Lewis has had a rough few years, unable to transfer his precocious talent to the professional circuit. Victory in last year’s Portugal Masters was followed up with a top-10 finish in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in November, and that has been followed up with impressive form this year. Ninth in Abu Dhabi was bettered with a third-place finish at the Saudi International. This time last year he was languishing at 394th in the world rankings. He is now at 55 and close to an invite to the Masters.


The 23-year-old had an impressive Desert Swing, underlining his status as China’s first major golfing star. He followed up the defense of his Dubai title — where he finished tied 12th — with runner-up spot at the Saudi International. With his best years well ahead of him, Haotong Li can really make a name for himself as he did over the past few weeks, not least with his remarkable third-round 62. That was sparked by four eagles, but most impressively, Li made three of those eagles on par 4s.


Relegation-battle boost as Al-Muwallad penalty ensures narrow win for nervous Al-Ittihad

Updated 15 August 2020

Relegation-battle boost as Al-Muwallad penalty ensures narrow win for nervous Al-Ittihad

DUBAI: After a miserable resumption of the Saudi Professional League (SPL) season for Al-Ittihad, who lost two matches in the space of a week, they finally gave their fans something to smile about on Friday with a 1-0 home win over Al-Ettifaq at King Abdullah Sports City.

However, it was another uncomfortable night for the struggling giants and the result was partially overshadowed by an unseemly scuffle between the teams’ players and coaching staffs.

Al-Ittihad started the day 13th in the league, just one point and one place above Al-Fateh, who occupied the first of the three relegation spots. With six games left to play, the message coming out of the club was that they are being treated like six cup finals — six crucial matches in the battle to avoid the ignominy of dropping out of the top flight or facing a play-off to ensure survival.

By the time the under-pressure players took to the field they knew that Al-Fateh had overtaken them in the race for survival, thanks to a 2-1 win over Abha Club. As a result, Al-Ittihad kicked off their 25th match of the season in the relegation zone.

It was perhaps not surprising then that in a first half littered with errors, a nervous Al-Ittihad lacked cohesion and confidence, and coach Fabio Carille’s decision to start Brazilian playmaker Romarinho nominally on the left side of midfield seemed to unbalance the team. Still, despite some promising attacks, especially down the wings, Al-Ettifaq were unable to take advantage of their opponents’ uncertainty.

Five minutes into the second half, Al-Ittihad got the break they so desperately needed when Al-Ettifaq midfielder Ibrahim Mahnashi clipped Saud Abdulhamid in the penalty area, and the referee correctly awarded a penalty after consulting with the video assistant referee. Saudi international Fahad Al-Muwallad made no mistake from the spot, firmly placing the ball to the right of goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi.

The Al-Ittihad giants struggled throughout the game, but finally managed to give their fans reason to smile with a 1-0 win. (SPA)



Al-Ittihad failed to capitalize on their advantage but, despite having to endure a few close calls as the referee added six extra minutes, they managed to hold out to secure a narrow 1-0 win and three priceless points.

At the final whistle, Al-Ittihad’s exhausted players sank to their knees, a reaction more often seen at the end of grueling cup final than a more routine league game. The victory allowed them to leapfrog both Al-Fateh and Al-Hazem and claim 12th place.

“This was an important win for us; mentally we needed this win,” said match-winner Al-Muwallad. “But I have to say that despite the win we didn’t perform to our best. We fell short in certain parts but, thankfully, we got the most important thing, which is the three points. I hope this will help our morale ahead of the match against Al-Faisaly (on Wednesday).”

The Saudi international admitted he is concerned about the number of mistakes his team continue to make, even after taking the lead in Friday’s game.

“If you watch the last two matches you’d see that it was individual mistakes that led to two defeats,” he said. “Today we managed to fix some of those problems but not all of them.

“We still made mistakes and, as I said, we didn’t play to the level that Al-Ittihad fans expect from us, despite the presence of a very good group of players. This win should make us more relaxed in the coming games.

“After the goal we retreated somewhat. We tried to finish the game with our counterattacks but couldn’t. Thankfully, we still got the win. We will take it one match at a time — now we should forget this match and start thinking about the match against Al-Faisaly.”

The Al-Ittihad giants struggled throughout the game, but finally managed to give their fans reason to smile with a 1-0 win. (SPA)

Abdul Aziz Al-Bishi, who was making his first appearance for Al-Ittihad since the SPL resumed after it was suspended for more than four months because of the coronavirus crisis, said the players found it hard to take advantage of the extra space that opened up after Al-Muwallad’s goal.

“The weather didn’t help, and coming back from the break maybe some of the players found it hard out there,” he said. “But this should help us in the coming matches and we can add more points to climb up the league table.”

Al-Ettifaq defender Saleh Al-Qumaizi was disappointed that his team’s performance did not earn at least a point.

“I think we played a big match,” he said. “We controlled the majority of the play and we gave everything we had. We made some mistakes and they scored from one of them.

“We have many key players on the left, right and down the middle. I think today we concentrated mostly on the left and a little on the right channels but it wasn’t to be.”

In the day’s other matches, Al-Fayha and Al-Shabab played out a 1-1 draw at Al-Majma’ah Sports City, while two goals in the last 13 minutes helped Al-Raed beat relegation-threatened Al-Hazem 3-1 to remain in fifth place.