Dustin Johnson has been forced to pull out of his first tournament of the year - just three weeks before LIV Golf 's season opener in Mexico.
Johnson, 38, had been set to tee it up at this week's Saudi International ahead of the start of LIV's expanded 14-event 2023 calendar. But the American, a two-time winner of the Asian Tour's flagship event, withdrew just hours before his opening round because of a back injury.
He is said to have aggravated the problem during a practice round at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, which forced him to miss Wednesday's pro-am. And the late withdrawal represents a frustrating start to the year for Johnson, who had been due to compete in the Gulf state alongside all 47 other LIV rebels who played in the breakaway's 2022 team championship finale in October.
“Two-time champion Dustin Johnson has unfortunately had to withdraw ahead of the first round of the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers after tweaking his back,” a brief Asian Tour statement read.
Johnson has been dealt with back injury blows before, most notably being forced to pull out of the 2017 Masters when he was considered the favourite for the tournament.
And it is unclear whether he will recover in time for LIV's first event at Mayakoba in Mexico from February 24-26.
The event near Jeddah would have offered Johnson a rare chance of claiming Official World Golf Ranking points, which help determine qualification for the four majors.
The former no.1 has now slipped down to 46th in the world since joining LIV, who are still without crucial access to the world ranking points that would further validate the venture.
Johnson became one of the faces of LIV when he ditched the PGA Tour to sign for Greg Norman's Saudi-backed enterprise.
He featured in LIV's inaugural event at the Centurion Club outside London last June and went on to dominate the first year of the lucrative series, earning a mouth-watering £30.7m in total prize money.