Best bets for Saudi International and Ras Al Khaimah Championship

January 31, 2023 05:56 PM

The Saudi International, the Asian Tour's flagship event, has helped dilute the field at the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as all of LIV Golf is participating in Saudi Arabia. Dustin Johnson (7-1) is a two-time winner (2019, 2021) of this event. Cameron Smith (8-1), OWGR No. 4, finished fourth in the event last year. Joaquin Niemann (10-1) finished eighth and also third on this course in the LIV Jeddah event last October.

Cameron Young (14-1), Lucas Herbert (22-1), Mito Pereira (40-1), Sebastian Munoz (125-1) and Cameron Champ (100-1) are in this field leading to speculation that they may be the next to join LIV Golf.

Brooks Koepka (16-1) won the LIV Jeddah event in October. Patrick Reed (20-1) picked up valuable OWGR points last week in Dubai, finishing runner-up to Rory McIlroy and is now back to No. 57 in the world and closing in on the top 50.

Harold Varner III (25-1) is the defending champion.



The Event

The Saudi International is in its fifth year of existence but became a flagship event on the Asian Tour last year. The event is held in King Abdullah Economic City, located along the coast of Red Sea. This event is never without controversy as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s political and human rights issues have been well-documented. Nevertheless, it has not stopped many big-time names in golf from traveling there and scooping up some extra appearance fees.

The tournament ceased to be a European Tour event after the 2021 edition, and later that year it was announced that as a result, the PGA Tour would not allow its members to compete in future editions, with the European Tour expected to do the same. In September 2021, it was announced that it would become part of the Asian Tour's schedule. This involved a 10-year deal starting in 2022, with an increased prize fund of $5 million. In October, it was announced that the event would become the flagship event of the Asian Tour. In December, the PGA Tour revealed that it would grant their members releases to play in the event in 2022 on the condition that they committed to play in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in the following years.

This all changed, though, as Greg Norman, with the backing of the Public Investment Fund (owned by the Saudi Arabian government), started LIV Golf officially last summer.

The Course

The Royal Greens Golf & Country Club was built in 2017 and designed by Dave Sampson of Euro Golf Design. The track plays as a par-72 for members but will play as a par-70 for the players this week as the par-5s on the ninth and13th holes are converted to par-4s for a 7,010-yard layout. There are 12 par-4s on this track that only average around 420 yards and four of them measure less than 380 yards. The course is built around four lakes with some holes playing toward and alongside the Red Sea. As well as the water, native desert areas and waste areas await poor shots as well as drainage ditches. There are several doglegs, too, so the course will demand some strategy. The course features Royal Paspalum Dynasty grass throughout. Nevertheless, this is a shorter layout, so wind has the be the primary defense.

Recent History/Winners

2022: Harold Varner III (-13/267); 55-1

2021: Dustin Johnson (-15/265); 11-2

2020: Graeme McDowell (-12/268); 80-1

2019: Dustin Johnson (-19/261); 7-1


Cameron Young 14-1

Young makes his debut in this event.

Unlike many of his top-end competitors, he has already played twice in 2023 finishing T-13 at the Sentry and T-26 at the AMEX.

He has five runners-up on the PGA Tour in the last 16 months and can certainly compete with the top players in this field.

Abraham Ancer 30-1

Ancer missed the cut last week in Dubai, but that could have given him the opportunity to knock off some offseason rust.

He was 11th and 8th in the two events on this course last year and was sixth here in 2020.

Henrik Stenson 40-1

After being terminated from his Ryder Cup captaincy because of joining LIV Golf, Stenson won the LIV event at Bedminster last summer.

He finished eighth last week in Dubai and 20th the week prior in Abu Dhabi, so he will be far less rusty than some of the others who have not played any form of competitive golf in four months.

Ras Al Khaimah Championship

OWGR No. 1 Rory McIlroy made a 15-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole in a Monday finish to defeat Patrick Reed by one stroke and win his third career Dubai Desert Classic at +350. McIlroy will not be taking part in the United Arab Emirates this weekend, nor will the LIV contingent that includes Reed.

However, many DP World Tour mainstays are in the field with no clear-cut favorite. Rasmus Hojgaard (16-1) watched his twin brother Nicolai (25-1) win the inaugural event last year. Ryan Fox (18-1) won the Ras Al Khaimah Classic the following week. Adrian Meronk (18-1) was a runner-up on this course in 2017 on the Challenge Tour. Victor Perez (18-1) was also a runner-up here in 2018 to Adri Arnaus (33-1) at the Challenge Tour Grand Final.

Adrian Otaegui (35-1) finished third here last year. Callum Shinkwin (35-1) and Julien Brun (50-1) posted top-5 finishes last week in Dubai.

The Event​

The DP World Tour visited Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates for the first time in last year with the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Championship presented by Phoenix Capital.

The $2 million tournament will conclude the DP World Tour's three-week swing through the Emirates.

This week's course, Al Hamra Golf Club, previously hosted the European Challenge Tour over three consecutive years from 2016-2018. It was initially the venue for the Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge in 2016 and 2017, before hosting the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final as the final stop on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah in 2018.

The Course​

Al Hamra Golf Club is this week’s venue, and the Peter Harradine design stretches to 7,400 yards for a par-72.

A regular 36/36 setup, similar to last week’s Dubai Desert Classic, the back nine is longer than the front nine, although the back nine at Dubai had three par-5s for a 35/37 split. Many of the best scoring opportunities will come in the first eight holes on the course.

The par-5s are all long and range from 576-607 yards. There are also three sub-400-yard par-4s, which are all birdie opportunities.

Set just off the coast of Ras al Khaimah, there is a coastal vibe at Al Hamra with exposed fairways and desert surroundings are complimented by water hazards in the shape of lagoons on several holes for the errant. Paspalum grass has once again been used for this course, similar to what we saw at Abu Dhabi two weeks ago.

Recent History/Winners

2022: Nicolai Hojgaard (-24/264); 35-1

Ras Al Khaimah Classic

2022: Ryan Fox (-22/266); 60-1


Adrian Otaegui (35-1, DraftKings)

Otaegui started 2023 with back-to-back T-28s in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

He finished third in this event last year.

The Spaniard rates third so far for Strokes Gained: Approach and the two winners here last year — Hojgaard and Fox — rated second in their respective fields for Approach.

George Coetzee (45-1, BetMGM)

Coetzee finished ninth and 27th in the two RAK events last year.

He won the Portugal Masters in 2020 at Dom Pedro Victoria, which has strong course correlations to Al Hamra.

The South African also rates fourth on the DP World Tour for Strokes Gained: Approach.

Pablo Larrazabal (66-1, BetRivers)

Larrazabal won twice last year before the end of April and has a tendency to play his best early in the calendar year.

He was third here last year leading the field for putting and already has a 20th in Abu Dhabi and a 28th in Dubai.

The Spaniard is also a strong performer on correlated courses, such as Abu Dhabi, where he's won, and in Qatar with a runner-up and multiple top-5s.

Johannes Veerman (75-1, Boyd Sports)

Veerman finished eighth last week in Dubai against a stronger field than the one he will compete against this week.

The American finished 12th here last year.

Hurly Long (80-1, BetMGM)

Long played well in both events last year, recording finishes of third and 18th.

The German had six top-10s on the DP World Tour last season, including at the Portugal Masters at Dom Pedro Victoria. 

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