KAEC (Jeddah): Shubhankar Sharma is the best-ranked among seven Indians in fray at the star-studded $5 million Saudi International Golf Championship starting Thursday.
Former world No. 1 and current No 5, Dustin Johnson will be bidding for a hat-trick of Saudi International titles which also includes a bevy of global golfing superstars.
Johnson is joined by a powerful contingent of Americans, including Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed.
Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, the winner here in 2020, Spaniard Sergio Garcia, and Englishmen Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, and Ian Poulter, are also competing.
The event will mark the start of the season on the Asian Tour at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.
Apart from Sharma, who was runner-up at the Abu Dhabi Championship on the DP World a fortnight ago, the other Indians include Shiv Kapur, Rashid Khan, Khalin Joshi, Viraj Madappa, S Chikkarangappa and young Veer Ahlawat, who came close to winning his maiden Asian Tour title in Singapore last month as the 2021-22 season wound up.
The Asian challenge is led by Korea's 19-year-old star, Kim Joohyung who won the 2021-22 Order of Merit.
Kim plays with Johnson and Jason Kokrak in the first round. Over 50 Asian Tour members are competing including six Asian Tour number ones. That includes Sharma, who was Asian Tour No. 1 in 2018.
Two-time Major winner Johnson made his first start of the year at the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour and finished at tied 25th.
"Well, I mean, this year is no different than any other year," said the 37-year-old.
"Absolutely, I'm going to try to do everything I can to put myself in a position to have a chance to win come Sunday. Yeah, obviously the field keeps getting better and better every year, so it gets a little harder and harder to win the trophy.
"They've done a great job with this event and keep bringing a lot of world-class players in. I think this year is probably the best field they've had. It's a lot of talent, a lot of really good golfers. It's going to be a challenge," Johnson added.