For two years in a row, an offer of millions of dollars just to show up reportedly wasn’t enough to get Tiger Woods to play in Saudi Arabia.
Woods turned down an offer of $3 million to play in the European Tour’s controversial Saudi International tournament both last year and this year, according to ESPN’s Bob Harig. The tournament is scheduled to be played for the second time next year, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2.
Woods’ decision occurs in the obvious context of Saudi Arabia’s considerable record of human rights violations, most notably the killing of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The government of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is believed by the CIA to have ordered Khashoggi’s murder, is funding the tournament’s $3.5 million prize money as well as the seven-figure appearance fees for numerous players, according to ESPN.
However, Woods told ESPN that politics had nothing to do with his decision.
“I just don't want to go over there,” Woods told ESPN. “It's a long way.“
It’s probably worth noting that Woods participated in the Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates as recently as 2017, though motivations to travel and compete can obviously change.
Woods did defend the golfers who will compete in the Saudi International, though, including Phil Mickelson.
Tiger defends Phil’s choice to play in Saudi Arabia
Facing a truckload of criticism for agreeing to play the 2020 Saudi International, Mickelson defended his decision by saying he wanted to “grow the game” in the traditionally golf-barren country.
Woods backed up that rationale with ESPN, and went so far as to suggest that golf could help “heal” the politics of Saudi Arabia:
"I understand the politics behind it," Woods said Tuesday of the controversy. "But also the game of golf can help heal a lot of that, too. It can help grow it. 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."
The critics of such tournaments might be in agreement on that line about healing Saudi Arabia, as the country has been accused of using its wealth to finance sporting events to rehabilitate its global image after the murder of Khashoggi. In addition to the golf, there are also WWE events, a $20 million-purse horse race and a heavyweight title fight rematch between Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua on the books.
Joining Mickelson at the Saudi International will reportedly be defending champion Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Tony Finau, Shane Lowry and Henrik Stenson. ESPN reports that Rory McIlroy was among those who turned down an offer to play.
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