Tiger Woods not hitting out at elite players competing in Saudi Arabia
"I understand the politics behind it, but the game of golf can actually help heal all that."
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 04/12/19 2:31pm
Tiger Woods refused to criticise the likes of Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson for accepting invites to play in Saudi Arabia next year.
World No 1 Koepka, who is currently sidelined by a knee problem, headlines a world-class field for the Saudi International which also includes Mickelson, defending champion Dustin Johnson, Open champion Shane Lowry, Tony Finau and Patrick Reed.
Woods and Rory McIlroy are reported to have turned down huge appearance fees to appear in the second edition of the tournament, in which many high-profile players have attracted widespread condemnation for opting to play in a country often criticised for human rights violations.
Mickelson became the latest big name to sign up for next year's event, and the five-time major champion insisted he was keen to grow the game of golf in the region as he faced a furious backlash for his decision to play.
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"I understand the politics behind it, but the game of golf can actually help heal all that, too," said Woods ahead of this week's Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. "It can help grow that. There are also a lot of other top players that are going to be playing that particular week.
"It's traditionally not a golf hotbed in the Middle East, but it has grown quite a bit. I remember going to Dubai for my very first time and seeing, what, maybe two, three buildings on the skyline when you tee off on No 8. Now there's a New York City skyline back there.
"The game of golf has grown. There's only been a few courses when I first went to Dubai, now they're everywhere; same with Abu Dhabi and maybe eventually in Saudi Arabia."
Mickelson's decision to play in Saudi Arabia was met with disappointment by the tournament chairman of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which takes place the same week and is an event that Mickelson has played in regularly for the last 30 years.
"I'd be lying if I wasn't disappointed," Tim Woods told ESPN. "Phil has been a very, very special part of our tournament for so long, for 30 years. And I know the fans are going to be disappointed in that. But he's been a great ambassador for us, obviously an Arizona State guy, and I certainly don't think this is his last go-around with us. I sure hope it's not.
"But I also understand. I mean, at the end of the day, this is a business and we respect his decision for him and his family that he needs to go and make sure that he still provides in that arena. So it's hard to hold a guy down or at fault for making a decision like that."