Mickelson and Woods at the 2018 Bridgestone Invitational.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
  • Tiger Woods has defended Phil Mickelson's decision to play in next year's Saudi Arabia International.
  • Woods himself turned down a $3 million (R43 million) offer to play in the tournament, says The Guardian.
  • But he believes Mickelson's presence and "the game of golf can help heal a lot" of Saudi Arabia's political issues.
  • The event in Saudi Arabia has come under heavy scrutiny due to the country's record on human rights and involvement in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whom was reportedly killed at the order of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
  • Mickelson said on Twitter that he's "excited to go play and see a place in the world" he has never visited.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za

Tiger Woods has defended Phil Mickelson's decision to play in next year's Saudi Arabia International because he believes the "game of golf can help heal a lot" of the country's political issues.

Woods was offered $3m (R43 million) to appear in next year's tournament, however turned down the opportunity for the second year running, according to The Guardian.

Mickelson on the other hand, has taken up the offer to travel to the Middle East in early 2020, saying on Twitter that he's "excited to go play and see a place in the world" he has never visited.

The event in Saudi Arabia has come under heavy scrutiny due to the country's record on human rights and alleged involvement in the death of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In September, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he takes "full responsibility" for the murder but denied being the one who ordered it.

'It can help grow [the game]'

Amnesty International described the golf event as an attempt to "sportswash" the country's image, says The Guardian, but Woods, who cited the distance as reason for his refusal to play, says Mickelson's involvement can be beneficial for the country.

"I understand the politics behind it but also the game of golf can help heal a lot of that, too," the American said, according to The Guardian. "It can help grow [the game], and also a lot of top players are going to be playing there."

Dustin Johnson, who won the event this year, world number one Brooks Koepka, and Sergio Garcia are just a few of the other high-profile names who will be attending the event between January 30 and February 2.

"It's traditionally not a golf hotbed, the Middle East, but it has grown quite a bit. I remember going to Dubai for my 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."

Mickelson's involvement in Saudi Arabia means he will miss the Phoenix Open for the first time in 30 years, prompting tournament chief Tim Woods to say he was "disappointed" in the American's decision, according to ESPN.

Mickelson however says he has no regrets over missing the tournament in which he has been playing since his time at Arizona State University, because the Saudi International is a chance to compete in one of the world's "premier tournaments."

"I've always believed that to be considered a world-class player, you must compete in premier tournaments around the world," he said in a statement via Golf.com.

"Playing in Saudi Arabia for the first time will be a great experience, and I'm looking forward to competing against what is already an exceptionally strong field, on what I have learned is a great golf course."

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