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We knew the fourth instalment of the Saudi International was going to be eventful but nobody could have predicted the endless stream of controversy that was to be whipped up in King Abdullah Economic City as battle lines were drawn at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.
Messrs. Mickelson, DeChambeau, Poulter and Westwood all found themselves in the spotlight as details began to emerge of the Saudis' intentions to alter the golfing landscape.
In particular, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau were at the epicentre of all things Super Golf League as players and tours collided over - as Colin Montgomerie aptly described last week - that evil word, money.
Thankfully, to balance out the negative, there were also plenty of uplifting stories from a sport that appears to be in a great place. So, let’s get stuck into the best (and worst) of the action from the men's and women's game…
Pot calls kettle black?
Let’s start with the bad. Perhaps Phil Mickelson's coffee turned sour en route from the USA to Saudi Arabia. Or perhaps he's been spoilt by his own success and wealth. Either way, something clearly irked the six-time major winner, who launched a scathing assault on the PGA Tour.
"Obnoxious greed," was how the 51-year-old described the tour's behaviour over the issue of media rights. And that's despite topping the Player Impact Program standings to the tune of $8 million. But like some, Mickelson, whose all-time PGA Tour earnings stand at $94m and change, apparently believes he deserves more.
Understandably, this drew the ire of some fans; but it also led to players - past and present - and pundits firing back. Brandel Chamblee called Lefty a "highly paid ventriloquist puppet" that cares more about his image rights than he does about human rights.
Brooks Koepka took to social media to question Mickelson's authority in commenting disparagingly in relation to money and greed. Golfweek's Eamon Lynch claimed that "at best, his words suggest that what he possesses in self-regard, he lacks in self-awareness."
Mickelson also declared that he would retire if he won the US Open. Perhaps with the way things have gone, that would be the best case scenario for all involved.
Spieth adds to unwanted record
It was an eventful week in California for Jordan Spieth. The Texan came into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am nursing a stomach bug before launching a weekend charge that almost earned him a 13th PGA Tour title. He also got as close to dicing with death as is maybe possible in a pro event when he took on that shot on Pebble’s iconic eighth hole. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth checking out.
A photo posted by on
However, with three holes to play on Sunday, he was eclipsed by Tom Hoge and had to settle for solo second. Not a bad return, even if it means the close calls are mounting up for the former World No. 1. Since 2013, nobody has registered more runner-up finishes than Spieth with 16. Dustin Johnson is his nearest challenger for this crown unwanted with 14.
600 up for Charles Howell III
Charles Howell III, otherwise known as the human ATM, will make his 600th PGA Tour start at this week’s WM Phoenix Open. Once a top-20 player, Howell’s consistency for more than two decades has been a joke.
Despite only picking up three victories from 599 starts to date, he has made 461 cuts (77%), had 227 top-25s (38%), and 97 top-10s (16%). As a result, his career earnings are north of $41 million, putting him 22nd on the PGA Tour’s all-time money list. At just 42 years old, and with prize purses only going one way, he has plenty of time to bank a few more million before all is said and done.
Ireland has its first LPGA Tour champion
Leona Maguire etched her name into golf’s history books by becoming the first player from the Emerald Isle to win on the LPGA Tour. The 27-year-old fired a closing seven-birdie 67 to clinch victory at the Drive On Championship, beating America’s Lexi Thompson by three shots.
Maguire was long tipped for success having spent 135 weeks as the no.1 ranked amateur in the world but had to wait until her 50th LPGA Tour start to get her hands on some silverware. "I know people probably thought I was going to win before this,” she said. “I feel like the way I've gone about it, I've been prepared at each level and mastered each level.
"I wanted to go out and win it myself and earn it. Yeah, just really proud of the way I played today."
Hoge wins maiden title at depleted AT&T
Across a few ponds from the Saudi drama, Tom Hoge finally got over the line for his first PGA Tour win at the 203rd time of asking. Despite the much-depleted field, Hoge still fended off the likes of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay to capture the iconic AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
The 32-year-old put on a back-nine masterclass to usurp Spieth at the top of the leaderboard having trailed by a shot with three holes to go. Hoge ranked third for the week on the greens, fourth from tee to green and fifth in approach play. A hell of a combo for the man now set for a Masters debut come April.
Varner III provides Saudis with thrilling finale
During a week in which golf perhaps didn’t put its best foot forward, Harold Varner III’s unlikely hole-out from 92 feet at the Saudi International provided a welcome distraction (for a while, anyway). Trailing Bubba Watson by a shot on the par-5 18th, Varner faced a tough task just to force a play-off, before his big-swinging putt from off the green dropped in the front door to a chorus of cheers and wild celebrations.
With the win, the 31-year-old jumps up the rankings into 45th, the first time he's been inside the top 50 in his career.
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After the demolition of last year's Ryder Cup, there wasn't much to cheer about for European golf fans looking at an ageing team. However, that is changing thanks to a pair of 20-year-old Danish twins. At the Ras Al Khaimah Championship, Nicolai Hojgaard notched his second DP World Tour victory, adding to the three of his brother Rasmus.
The twins can count Adam Scott and Ian Poulter as admirers, with both recognising their prodigious talent during the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. By all accounts, the Hojgaards possess a tremendous combination of power and feel, leading many to tip them for future greatness. And while Rome is still a ways out, it's hard not to get excited at the prospect.
A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he went on to enjoy a spell freelancing for Stats Perform producing football reports, and then for RacingNews365 covering Formula 1. However, he couldn't turn down the opportunity to get back into the sport he grew up watching and playing and now covers a mixture of equipment, instruction and news for Golf Monthly's website and print title.
Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a scratch handicap. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.
As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as goal.com, dailyrecord.co.uk, and theopen.com.
What's in Andy's bag?
Driver: Callaway Mavrik Sub-Zero (9°)
3-wood: TaylorMade M1 (15°)
Driving iron: Titleist U500 (17°)
Irons: Callaway Apex Pro '19 (4-PW)
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM9 (50°, 54° and 58°)
Putter: Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport 2.5
Ball: Titleist Pro V1
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