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PGA Tour backs down, will allow golfers to compete in controversial Saudi International

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The PGA Tour, it seems, is backing down from its stance on the Saudi International.

The Tour announced on Monday afternoon that it would allow golfers to compete in the controversial event in February after all, something the Tour had previously said wouldn’t be allowed.

Players will be allowed to compete in Saudi Arabia under certain conditions. Players must have competed in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am — which is scheduled for the same weekend in California — at least once in the past five years, and will commit to play there again once in the next two years. If they haven’t played at Pebble Beach in the past five years, golfers must commit to play there twice in the next three years.

This decision to allow players to go to Saudi Arabia, the Tour said, is “not precedent setting.”

Dustin Johnson, others asked for release for Saudi International

At least eight regular Tour golfers had applied for a waiver to compete at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in Saudi Arabia in February, including defending champion and third-ranked golfer in the world Dustin Johnson.

Graeme McDowell, Abraham Ancer, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Na and Jason Kokrak — who is sponsored by Golf Saudi — had also reportedly applied.

It’s unclear who will compete in the event.

The Saudi International has drawn wide criticism in its short existence for various reasons, including the country’s poor record on human rights abuses. The event has been dropped from the DP World Tour circuit, too. The event has a purse of $5 million, though it has a long history of both paying players to compete and chartering a jet for them. Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka have reportedly been paid to play there in the past.

Part of the issue with the event for the Tour and the DP World Tour — formally known as the European Tour — is because of the proposed golf super league. Hall of Famer Greg Norman was named the commissioner earlier this year of a new Saudi-backed golf series, something the country has been trying to launch for a long time. It’s still unclear what the league will look like, but the 10-tournament series is supposed to start next year.

Though some players have been in favor of such an idea — Mickelson sounded open to it earlier this year, while others like Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy ripped it — Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was adamantly against it. He said in May that anyone who leaves for a super league would forfeit their Tour rights and “likely” be permanently expelled.

Though Norman’s venture is technically different from the proposed Premier Golf League, which is what Monahan was referring to, the Tour clearly isn’t happy about the new circuit. How the Tour handles that and the Saudi International going forward remains to be seen.

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