All systems go for Saudi International

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Poulter and the Americans: Ian Poulter, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed. (Supplied)
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Dustin Johnson won the inaugural Saudi International at Royal Greens & Country Club. (Supplied)
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Brooks Koepka is the number 1 ranked golfer in the world. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 January 2020

All systems go for Saudi International

  • Golf Saudi CEO says, ‘We’re really excited’; Johnson, Koepka upbeat

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: Golf Saudi CEO Majed Al-Sorour rolled out the welcome mat for 132 players — a much stronger field than last year’s lineup — who will vie for total prize money of $3.5 million in the Saudi International.

“We are pleased to have everybody here. The players, they come and enjoy our tournament,” Al-Sorour told a press conference on Tuesday ahead of this week’s second edition of the European Tour event at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.

“We’re pretty excited. The championship, the Saudi International has been put on the world map, in the European Tour. We are really excited for the world ranking. Our field is really strong,” said Al-Sorour, who also discussed the Kingdom’s golf development program.

“Our main pillar out of the six pillars is mass participation. It’s inclusive. When we focus on mass participation, we did not stop at the development of the national team. We want to develop the full ecosystem of golf. Some of the jobs we are trying to create are the customer service and customer care, caddy master, agronomy and greenskeeping and the multiple different layers of getting into the field of agronomy and natural resources,” he said.

Also gracing the press conference on the second day of tournament week Tuesday were defending champion and world No.5 Dustin Johnson and world No.1 Brooks Koepka as well as the Saudi trio and local favorites professional Othman Almulla and amateurs Saud Alsharif and Faisal Salhab.

The US duo headlines one of the strongest lineups on the Middle East leg of the European Tour, including 10 major winners.

“I’m looking forward to a big year. I feel like the game is in pretty good form,” said Johnson.

“I’m really pleased with how I played last year here, I like the golf course and enjoyed myself. I’m excited to be back for this tournament. But because you won at a golf course, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win again. I’m going to have to work for it this week.”

Koepka is returning to the Kingdom after another successful season that saw him win a fourth major crown.

The 29-year-old is continuing his return to competition following a knee injury that kept him out of action at the end of last season.

“I had three months off, so there was no point in having a holiday. It was more of a work thing in my off-season to get my game ready. It felt good in Abu Dhabi, it felt good in Dubai and it now feels good here,” said Koepka.

Both players believe the 7,010-yard par 70 Royal Greens & Country Club layout facing the players this week has made major advances.

“It looks in incredible shape just as it was last year. Any time you can give a course an extra year to develop, you’re going to see progression,” added Koepka.

“The greens are a lot faster. The rough’s a lot thicker. It’s settled in nicely.”

The course stretches along the spectacular Red Sea coastline, giving Dustin Johnson a chance to indulge another sporting passion before his practice round this morning — scuba diving.

“I had no idea you could do that in Saudi Arabia. Last year, I met a friend who lived here and took us out on a scuba dive, so that was something I was looking forward to doing again.”

For the Saudi trio, the tournament, which also features US stars Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed as well as European heavyweights Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood, will be one of the most challenging weeks of their sporting lives.

They all looked confident while focusing on the positives as they prepare for the blue- ribbon event.

FIFA bribe allegations raise more questions over Qatar World Cup

Updated 10 min 44 sec ago

FIFA bribe allegations raise more questions over Qatar World Cup

  • Suspicion and rumors have long surrounded Qatar's bid

LONDON: The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has become the focus of fresh FIFA corruption allegations after the release of a new US Department of Justice indictment which says bribes were paid to football officials to secure their votes for hosting rights.

Suspicion and rumors have long surrounded both the 2010 vote by FIFA’s executive to hand the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. But on Monday, for the first time, prosecutors set direct, formal allegations down in print.

According to the prosecutors, representatives working for Russia and Qatar bribed FIFA executive committee officials to swing votes in the crucial decision of world football’s governing body.

FIFA and the Qatar World Cup organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Qatar and Russia’s World Cup bids have always denied paying bribes.

Although FIFA has reacted to previous media allegations about the Qatar bid process by insisting the tournament will be unaffected, the USallegations will lead to further questions over the hosting of the tournament, which is scheduled for November and December of 2022.

The indictment states that the three South American members of FIFA’s 2010 executive — Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira, the late Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay and an unnamed co-conspirator — took bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 tournament.

“Ricardo Teixeira, Nicolas Leoz and co-conspirator #1 were offered and received bribe payments in exchange for their votes in favor of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup,” reads the indictment.

Teixeira, the former son-in-law of long-time FIFA boss Joao Havelange and ex-head of the Brazilian soccer federation (CBF), was not immediately reachable for comment.

The DOJ also alleges that then FIFA vice president Jack Warner was paid $5 million through various shell companies to vote for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup.

Warner has been accused of a number of crimes in the long-running USprobe and is fighting extradition from his homeland of Trinidad and Tobago. Warner, who was not immediately reachable for comment, has always denied any wrongdoing.

Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the local organizing committee for Russia’s 2018 World Cup, told the Interfax news agency: “This is only the opinion of lawyers. We have repeatedly said that our bid was transparent.

“At the time we answered all questions, including from the investigation branch of FIFA and from the media, we handed over all needed documents. We have nothing to add to this and we will not respond to attempts to cast a shadow on our bid.”

Asked if the Kremlin was aware of the US indictment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We read the media reports. We don’t understand what they refer to.

“Russia received the right to host the World Cup completely legally. It is in no way linked to any bribes. We reject this. And Russia hosted the best soccer World Cup in history, which we are proud of.”

The Qatar World Cup organizers have been fending off allegations of corruption ever since the tiny Gulf state was awarded the 2022 tournament.

In 2014, FIFA, then under the control of former President Sepp Blatter, cleared Russia and Qatar of wrongdoing in their bids to host the World Cup after an investigation.

Blatter was banned from football by FIFA along with scores of other officials following internal ethics investigations, promoted by the arrests of seven FIFA officials on UScorruption charges in Zurich in May 2015.