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Johnson, DeChambeau, Casey part of Saudi field in February

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The Saudi International in its third year is shaping up as one of the strongest fields on the European Tour with commitments from Masters champion Dustin Johnson, U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau and a curious one from Paul Casey.

Tournament organizers said on Thursday that seven members of Europe’s last Ryder Cup team will play the Saudi International on Feb. 4-7, the same week as the Phoenix Open on the PGA Tour.

Johnson won the inaugural Saudi International in 2019 and was runner-up this year to Graeme McDowell. DeChambeau also played the first year, while Phil Mickelson signed up again for 2021 after a tie for third in Saudi last year.

The surprise was Casey, who made it a point of saying he would not be playing when the tournament began in 2019. He noted his sponsorship of UNICEF, which is on his golf bag, and said he would prefer to “sit this one out.” In an interview with the London-based Independent that spring, however, Casey said, “I would be a hypocrite” if he received appearance money to play the Saudi International.

Players were criticized for going, especially the first year, because it was held some three months after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in columns for The Washington Post. Johnson said he was going to play golf, not support the government. “I’m not a politician. I’m a golfer,” he said in 2019.

Mickelson was criticized in part for skipping the Phoenix Open, where he is among the biggest draws as a past champion and Arizona State graduate.

For the Europeans, a strong field could go a long way toward their bid to make the Ryder Cup team through world ranking points. Europe’s qualification process was frozen when the matches were postponed until September 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It resumes in January.

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