31 January 2019: Asian Tour Release
South Africa’s Justin Harding, who had a sensational final round that helped him snatch a top-10 at the Dubai Desert Classic last Sunday will be looking at another fine finish as he tees up at the star-studded Saudi International powered by SBIA held at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club on the European Tour on Thursday.
Harding leads the fairly large contingent of Asian Tour members, who will be up against the world’s top-three Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, besides Dubai winner, Bryson DeChambeau, the world number five.
The field also includes last two Masters champions, Sergio Garcia (2017) and Patrick Reed (2018), four-time Major winner, Ernie Els, an Asian Tour honorary member, and other Major winners like Henrik Stenson, winner of the 2016 Open, and Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion.
Els, who captains the International team at the Presidents Cup this year will also be looking on the fine form that he showed in Dubai, while finishing tied-12th. Els was tied-third after three rounds, before he fell following a 71 on Sunday.
Indian duo, Shubhankar Sharma, the reigning Asian Tour number one and winner of the Joburg Open and Maybank Championship, and Gaganjeet Bhullar, the 2018 Fiji International winner are also in the field looking at going better than tied-29th and tied-38th respectively.
Other Asian Tour members in the field include Scott Hend, Wang Jeunghun, Kurt Kitayama, winner of the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open, David Lipsky, winner of the Alfred Dunhill Championships this season and Wade Ormsby are also in the field at the sparkling Royal Greens, which has the spectacular Red Sea as the backdrop.
Sharma, who got used to playing on new golf courses almost the whole of 2018, is quite excited to tee up in the company of the top-three in the world. As excited with this new big-ticket event was Gaganjeet Bhullar, who is now armed with a European Tour card after his win in Fiji last year.
An additional element this week is Rayhan Thomas, who is ranked Number 16 among world amateurs, and has been given one of the invitations.
Even as the world’s best jostle for the top spot this week, the Indian duo of Sharma and Bhullar will be looking to get closer to the top-100 as the first immediate step.
Sharma said, “Playing in the same events as the world’s best is what we all want and it is indeed rare to get a chance outside of the Majors or the WGCs. So, I really relish the prospect of being here this week.”
Sharma, whose next assignment after this will be the WGC-Mexico, where he was tied-ninth in 2018, added, “Last year I played on new courses most of the time because I had never played most events in Europe or the US. This year I will get to play many of them again. But for now, a big purse event is welcome, as I want to do well and get my rankings up again.”
He added, “Last week was alright, but I could have done way better, so hopefully I can make up this week.”
Meanwhile Bhullar was summoning up all the positive feel, as he said: “The 16-17-18 remind me of the course in Fiji, where I won the Fiji International. I am feeling good and am all set to go and this year I am going to play as much as I can and in as many places.”
Bhullar, who has been playing well but not been scoring on account of some unlucky breaks and missed putts, could also have some advantage on the greens which are somewhat slowed to those compared usually seen on the European Tour, including in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.