Tiger Woods believes golf can help to "heal" the issues that have led to criticism of Phil Mickelson's decision to play the Saudi International in 2020. The introduction of the tournament to the European Tour calendar in 2019 was controversial due to Saudi Arabia's human rights record.
Dustin Johnson won the inaugural event, held from January 31 to February 3 this year, and will again play for the $3.5million purse next year. World number one Brooks Koepka will also feature in the field and Mickelson's decision to skip the Waste Management Phoenix Open to join them has proved unpopular in some quarters.
Responding to critics on Twitter, Phil Mickelson wrote: "After turning down opportunities to go to the Middle East for many years, I'm excited to go play and see a place in the world I've never been. I understand those who are upset or disappointed. You'll be ok. I'm excited to experience this for the first time."
Masters champion Woods will not be making the trip and, speaking ahead of the Hero World Challenge, he said: "I just didn't want to go over there - it is a long way to go. I understand the politics behind it. But also the game of golf can help heal a lot of that, too. It can help grow it [the game]. And also a lot of top players are going to be playing there that particular week."
“It's traditionally not a golf hotbed, the Middle East. But it has grown quite a bit. I remember going to Dubai for my very first time and seeing maybe two or three buildings in the skyline. Now there is a New York City skyline. Again, golf has grown. There were only a few courses when I went to Dubai and now they're everywhere. Same with Abu Dhabi, and maybe eventually in Saudi Arabia."