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Saudi International converts Paul Casey into a believer

Englishman cites Saudis’ ‘vision’ in reversing his opposition and joining stampede of elite players to commit to Feb. 4-7 event

Reversed: His opposition to the Saudi International on moral grounds, England’s Paul Casey, who committed to play in the third edition of the European Tour event. Casey, an outspoken critic during the first two years of Saudi Arabia’s entry into big-time tournament golf, will play in the third edition, on Feb. 4-7. “This is not a decision I’ve taken lightly,” Casey said in a statement. “I wasn’t comfortable going in the past, but I have always been open-minded and willing to learn. I believe sport has the power to affect change. I’ve listened to the Saudis’ commitment to this and their vision for the future.” Casey, who promotes the United Nations Children Fund, or UNICEF, with the humanitarian agency’s logo on his golf bag, had criticized the Saudi regime’s human-rights record while declining to join some of the game’s elite golfers in playing the first two editions of the Saudi International. He was among the last elite-level players to hold out of a $3.5 million event that reportedly pays more money than the prize fund to attract top players. The Saudis’ effort to lure international acceptance via professional golf has been part of a public-relations campaign that has been dismissed by critics as “sportswashing.” But Casey, 43, a 14-time winner on the European Tour who plays primarily on the PGA Tour, where he has won three times, cited two new Ladies European Tour events this month in Saudi Arabia as a reason for his change of heart. “It is always better to include rather than exclude when eliciting change, thus I hope my participation will make a difference,” he said, “and I am looking forward to seeing these changes in person.” Casey, who is No. 23 in the Official World Golf Ranking, will join a who’s-who of golf in Saudi Arabia. Masters champion Dustin Johnson, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, has committed to play, plus U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, five-time major champion Phil Mickelson, former major winners Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and defending champion Graeme McDowell. European Tour stars Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Ian Poulter also have committed to play. The Saudi International will be played opposite the PGA Tour’s Phoenix Open. European Tour events, unlike their counterparts on the PGA Tour, are not precluded from paying appearance fees. Some tournaments, such as the Saudi International, typically lure elite players with six- and even seven-figure checks. An added attraction for European players is that their Ryder Cup qualification process, which was frozen when the 2020 matches were postponed until 2021, will restart in January.

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