Tiger Woods has made millions of dollars in his career from appearance fees for playing in European Tour-sanctioned events in the United Arab Emirates. However, Woods has turned down perhaps the biggest appearance fee of his career to participate in the first-ever European Tour event in Saudi Arabia.
The Telegraph reports the Saudis offered Woods $3.25 million to play in the Saudi International, played at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in the King Abdullah Economic City. The tournament, set to be played Jan. 31 through Feb. 3, 2019, has a purse of $3.5 million.
James Corrigan reports the offer was first made during the summer, when Woods contended late into Sunday at both The Open Championship and PGA Championship. Woods turned down the offer, likely consistent with his goal to prevent unnecessary long-distance air travel, even with the prospect of a guaranteed seven-figure payday. Woods last played in the Middle East in 2017, withdrawing from the Dubai Desert Classic in the second round after a tweak to his back. Ultimately, it was his final start before spinal fusion surgery.
The Saudi government has already convinced Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Paul Casey to play in the kingdom-sponsored event. Since the Saudi government killed activist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul in October, the event has come under more scrutiny. It's unclear if Woods' decision was based at all on the Khashoggi murder.
European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said at the Turkish Airlines Open the event will go on as scheduled.
“I’ve had very little, in fact, no dialogue with partners, with our own government, with the Saudi Arabian Golf Federation or anybody from Saudi Arabia," Pelley said. "Saudi International is on our schedule and we’ll continue to monitor just like we would do with every other country.”
Pelley added, “We have heard some of the criticism of the region. Obviously freedom of speech is far more available now based on social media. We’ve heard. We’ve listened and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been trying to use sporting events as a means of luring big-name athletes in the foreground while using the sporting coverage to project an image of a reformed Saudi government, culture and economy. The government signed a long-term deal with World Wrestling Entertainment to bring regular large-scale events, broadcast on their WWE Network, to the country. bin Salman has also brought in tennis and soccer matches for these purposes.