Dustin Johnson overcame a determined challenge from Haotong Li to win the inaugural Saudi International powered by SBIA by two strokes.
The World Number Three prevailed in a fascinating back nine battle with China’s Li at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, birdieing the closing two holes for a round of 67 and a winning total of 19 under par.
Johnson had started the week as one of the tournament favourites, alongside the only two men ahead of him in the Official World Golf Ranking, Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka, and he lived up to that billing when he shared the lead with Li going into the final day after rounds of 68, 61 and 65.
He had to come from behind on the back nine though after Li, who carded an astonishing four eagles in his third round, chipped in for birdie on the ninth hole to take a one stroke advantage. Both players then bogeyed the tenth, but while Johnson birdied the next two holes, Li’s challenge faltered with bogeys on the 13th and 14th before he pulled a shot back on the 15th.
Johnson’s lead was back to just one shot when an errant tee shot led to a bogey on the par three 16th, but the 2016 US Open Champion hit back with consecutive birdies on the 17th and 18th hole to seal his first victory in a regular European Tour event and sixth title overall.
Li’s birdie on the last for a round of 69 ensured he took second place on his own, ahead of England’s Tom Lewis who could not quite sustain the early moment he had built with five birdies in a row to start his final round. Lewis eventually signed for a round of 65 to finish third on 16 under par, with Australia’s Min Woo Lee, playing in just his second professional event, finishing a further shot back in fourth courtesy of an impressive 63.
“It was tight, but I made a nice birdie on 11 and 12, so I got the lead back, but it was definitely tight, and then I made it a lot closer at the end than it should have been, hitting it in the water on 16. I followed it up with two really nice birdies on 17 and 18.
“It feels really good. Any time you can win a professional golf tournament, no matter where it is in the world, it’s a big win. I’m honoured to be the champion, and I’m very pleased with the win.
“It’s been a great week for me coming here, first time coming to Saudi Arabia, first time playing golf here, kind of first for everything.
Absolutely I would come back. I think the event went off fantastically, and I enjoyed the golf course. Obviously, I played it very well. It’s a beautiful course and I really like it. I really enjoyed my week this week, and I hope to be back next year.”
“It was a very good match, especially the front nine when I was playing really good. The back nine, I was just a little bit off. It wasn’t my best over there today again. But I learn a lot and especially that last few holes was good for me. I think he deserved to win this event.
“I’m very happy with the week. When I had four holes left, I looked at leaderboard. I had dropped to third place and so I’m very happy to finish solo second.”