Dustin Johnson back to full fitness ahead of Saudi International title defense

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Dustin Johnson on his way to winning the 2016 US Open at Oakmont Country Club, in Pennsylvania. (Getty Images)
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Dustin Johnson won the inaugural Saudi International at Royal Greens & Country Club. (Supplied)
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Dustin Johnson won the inaugural Saudi International at Royal Greens & Country Club. (Supplied)
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Dustin Johnson won the inaugural Saudi International at Royal Greens & Country Club. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 January 2020

Dustin Johnson back to full fitness ahead of Saudi International title defense

  • World number 5, Johnson, counts last year’s 61 at the Royal Greens & Country Club as one of his ‘best rounds’
  • Johnson is joined by leading US pros — world number 1 Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed

RIYADH: The Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers returns to King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) from January 30 — February 2. Arab News caught up with the big-hitting Dustin Johnson ahead of the European Tour event at Royal Greens & Country Club.

How are you feeling going into the Saudi International after a short spell out with injury?
I’m feeling very good. My knee has recovered well during the off season and I am anxious to get out on the course again. I have been working hard on my game over the last month or so and I am ready to get back to competition. It was a fun event last year and somewhat close over those final few holes, which made it exciting.

You must be excited to return to Saudi after winning the competition last year — what stood out for you from the victory?
Yes, of course. It’s always nice to go back to return to a tournament where you have good memories and my 61 in the second round was one of the best rounds of my year. I was surprised at how good the course was in the first year of playing the event and the hospitality in the country was second to none.

What surprised you about the competition in Saudi Arabia last year and how would you sum up the experience in the country?
Nothing really surprised me about the competition because we all know that it was a world-class field. I loved playing here last year and the field is looking even stronger this year. It’s is great to see a few more Americans making the trip over, which just shows how the tournament is gaining momentum and acceptance.

Last year was the first time the competition was held in Saudi Arabia, do you expect bigger crowds this year and what part can fans play in a Championship?
It was great to see so many people coming to watch us play last year and I hope the turnout will be even bigger this year. The crowds were fantastic and with all of the music concerts also lined up for this year, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

There are more top players competing in the Championship this year – are you confident of recording another victory in Saudi?
I don’t worry about the competition and about defending the trophy and just try to focus on my own preparation. If I play my best golf, I know I’ll have a chance to defend. I have managed to defend a title once before in my career, which is always challenging, so I don’t put any extra emphasis on it and just approach it like any other week.

How important is it for golf to be coming to Saudi Arabia and bring the game into new markets?
It is always good to introduce the game in new markets and although I play the majority of my golf in the US, it is nice come across to the Middle East to compete against such a strong field. Golf Saudi has a really cool vision for the sport in the next ten years and, it will be great to come back to this event in years to come.

Many people in Saudi Arabia will not have attended a golf championship. What can they expect, and what do fans get from watching the golf live and up close that is just impossible to experience through the TV?
It will be great to see more fans coming out to watch again this year. They are able to see what we go through on the course, how we decide which club to hit and experience the excitement of the competition, which is something you can’t really replicate on TV. It is always nice to interact with the fans, sign some autographs and hopefully improve the fans’ experience at the tournament.

More young people in Saudi Arabia are watching sport or taking up sport. What would you say to encourage them to take up golf and what can they learn from the sport?
Just get out there and play and have fun. It’s a great sport that anyone can enjoy for a lifetime. There is more than one way to swing the club and if you watch a few different golfers this week at the Saudi International you will see this for your own eyes.


UEFA warn clubs risk Champions League exclusion if seasons are not completed

UEFA and the European Club Association said that they were working on the possibility of playing on into July and August if need be. (AP/File)
Updated 04 April 2020

UEFA warn clubs risk Champions League exclusion if seasons are not completed

PARIS: UEFA and Europe’s top clubs have stated their determination that the current football season should be played to a conclusion and threatened that teams may be excluded from the next Champions League if their domestic competitions are ended prematurely.
In a joint letter released late on Thursday, UEFA, the European Club Association (ECA), and the European Leagues body representing nearly a thousand clubs in 29 countries, said that they were working on the possibility of playing on into July and August if need be.
The Champions League and Europa League — both of which are frozen in the last-16 stage — could be completed once the domestic seasons are finished, and “stopping competitions should really be the last resort after acknowledging that no calendar alternative would allow to conclude the season.”
The joint response came after the Belgian Pro League announced on Thursday that it recommended declaring the season over with the present table accepted as final.
It is the first European league to take such a measure, although more could follow.
That means Club Brugge would in theory go straight into the next Champions League group stage, but UEFA, the ECA and the European Leagues indicated that they may be barred from continental competition if the Belgian league decision is finalized.
“It is of paramount importance that even a disruptive event like this epidemic does not prevent our competitions from being decided on the field, in accordance with their rules and that all sporting titles are awarded on the basis of results,” the joint letter said.
“We are confident that football can restart in the months to come — with conditions that will be dictated by public authorities — and believe that any decision of abandoning domestic competitions is, at this stage, premature and not justified.
“Since participation in UEFA club competitions is determined by the sporting result achieved at the end of a full domestic competition, a premature termination would cast doubts about the fulfilment of such condition.”
The letter concluded: “UEFA reserves the right to assess the entitlement of clubs to be admitted to the 2020/21 UEFA club competitions.”
The Belgian Pro League said it had had “constructive” discussions with UEFA on Friday in which it “contested any approach which would force a league to continue in the current health crisis.”
It has called for a “varied approach” based on the specifics of individual leagues and countries.
UEFA has set up two working groups to devise a way for European football to get out of the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.