Rose seeks to consolidate top ranking in controversial Saudi event

King Abdullah Economic City (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) –


World number one Justin Rose is determined to avoid politics and focus on consolidating his position on top of global golf against a stellar field at the inaugural Saudi International.

The 38-year-old Englishman, who won last week's Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on the US Tour, is part of a formidable 132-man field in the $3.5 million European Tour event at the Royal Greens Golf Course.

He will go up against world No. 2 Brooks Koepka, No. 3 Dustin Johnson and No. 5 Bryson DeChambeau, who won last week's Dubai Desert Classic.

"That's one of the big reasons that attracted me to the tournament. They had secured Brooks and DJ to come and play and I think I was No 3 in the world at the time when I announced playing here," Rose said.

"Any time you have the opportunity to play against the best players in the world, it brings added inspiration and for me, that's a big goal this week."

The win at Torrey Pines widened the gap between Rose and Koepka at the top of the rankings, but the American still has a chance to go back to No. 1 with a win here.

"Obviously the world No 1 position has been going back and forth, back and forth," said Rose, who has held the top position four times for a combined eight weeks since reaching the summit for the first time last September.

"Last year we had four guys vying for it. It was going to take a player a good run and a consistent run of wins to go break clear," Rose said.

"So, last week I managed to just put a little bit of breathing space in there, and that's motivation for me this week."

"My primary focus this year will be around the major championships, but clearly it's a nice thing to have," Rose added. "The bigger lead you can build, the better.

The tournament, part of Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030" social and economic plan, has come under criticism, but Rose said this could be the start of a new era for the country.

"It's never straightforward, is it? But we are here to support the European Tour. I'm a European Tour player," Rose said. "For me, I think I can only commend their vision in terms of growing the game of golf. That's the industry in which I live. I'm not qualified to speak on any other subjects to be honest."

"Between now and 2030, there's a big push here for golf. Many, many courses are going to be developed. Hopefully, golf is a conduit to bridging the gap between this region and how we perceive golf in the western world.

"Who knows? Twenty, 30 years ago, Abu Dhabi and Dubai looked somewhat similar to here, and we've all seen the growth and what's possible in these regions. We can only support the vision."

The tournament starts Thursday. Also in the field are the reigning Masters champion Patrick Reed, the 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia and the 2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson.