Cameron Smith in third, but biggest stars absent from the top of the Saudi International leaderboard

Rory McIlroy warned about motivation with big appearance fees, while Bryson DeChambeau pulled out injured.

Rory McIlroy is not in Saudi Arabia this week, but reconsideration of his words from last week suggests a touch of the prescient about them.

Asked for his thoughts on the dizzying size of appearances fees for this week's Saudi International at Royals Greens GC, the former World No. 1 said: "It's the competitive integrity to me that's one of the biggest issues here.

"It's like how hard are guys going to compete when they know that they are guaranteed whatever the money is?"

Nor was he merely speculating. Instead, he referred to his own difficulties in similar situations in the past.

"When I started to get appearance fees back in 2009 or whatever, I struggled with that," he admitted. "Going to tournaments in Korea and Japan, feeling like I've already won before I teed it up. I had to get over that mental battle of that."

A few days later the tournament is heading into the week being led by Spain's Adri Arnaus (yet to win on the DP World Tour) and Harold Varner III (yet to win on the PGA Tour).

The pair are excellent golfers, as proved by their 10-under totals of 130, but they won't be remotely close to the top earners in the pre-tournament financial carve up (and therefore the purse string holder's most-favoured winners).

Cameron Smith and Matthew Wolff, in a share of third, are, like Tommy Fleetwood in fifth, fine performers but again not quite the biggest draws.

Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele do head into the final 36 holes among the top 10, but so do the unheralded JC Ritchie, Ryosuke Kinoshita, Steve Lewton and Wade Ormsby. An unlikely name could yet capitalise on any un-incentivised superstar performers.

Both the leaders added 66s to their first rounds 64s. Varner III then talked positively of travelling the world, albeit in a back-handed fashion.

"I enjoy playing all over the world if I can," he said. "I've played a little bit of everywhere, I really enjoy it. Makes you appreciate home."

Arnaus, who has visited the course three times in the past (missing two cuts and finishing T27th) said: "I've been playing this course now for a few years and starting to get the hang of it. Even this wind, I've played it in the past, so I know my lines.

"It was a bit of a short preseason for me because of injury. I've been working on my game and it seems to be turning in the right direction. I'm happy."

Smith confident

Just one month ago the Aussie Smith was getting his new year off to the perfect start with victory in the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.

He spent the week referring to his past success in the same state's Sony Open, raving about how the nice weather, grainy greens and blustery breezes prompted fond memories of learned to play the game down under.

This week he's enjoying more of the same. Royal Greens is not quite tropical, but it's warm, the greens are Paspalum and the breezes are strong.

"I like it windy," he said after compiling a second 66 of the week. "I grew up in the wind. Being from Australia, it's something you kind of have to get used to pretty quick. You've just got to strike the ball well.

"I've really loved my week here so far. The course is great and can't wait for the weekend.

"I gave myself lots of opportunities. I felt like I was putting it good, they just weren't dropping like I wish they had. There's plenty of opportunities out there, plenty of wedges, just need to be real patient with it."

Law-maker

In the DP World Tour's Ras al Khaimah Championship at Al Hamra GC, Scotland's David Law posted a brilliant 8-under-par 64 to leap to the top of the leaderboard on 14-under 130.

The 30-year-old swapped two eagle-3s and five birdies with one bogey to jump two clear of Nicolai Hojgaard at the halfway stage. The Dane made eight birdies in his 7-under 65.

Spain's Adrian Otaegui blitzed the course with a nine birdie, bogey-free 63 to claim solo third on 10-under 134 while Thomas Detry, Oliver Bekker, Brandon Stone and Jordan Smith share fourth, one shot further back.

Englishman Smith is a past course winner on the UAE layout and the leader Law also has a decent track record.

He played Al Hamra in each of the three occasions it hosted the Challenge Tour finishing T11th in 2016, closing with a 66 when T19th in 2017, and he was top 10 through 36 holes ahead of landing T25th in 2018.

He'll be seeking to land a second DP World Tour title at the weekend, following on from his Vic Open success in 2019.

"I feel like my golf has progressed nicely in the last three years and that's the main aim," he said.

"It's about giving myself opportunities. It's not about putting pressure on myself to go and win again. If I keep knocking on the door and giving myself chances, I'll hopefully win one of them."

READ MORE: Greg Norman: Why it's not surprising the world leader whisperer is heading Saudi Arabia's golf plans

Latest news