Best bets for men's Olympic golf

reynolds
One year later than expected, Olympic men’s golf begins Wednesday night in Saitama, Japan. The field of 60 was shuffled near the top as world No. 1 Jon Rahm of Spain, the favorite at 5-1, had to withdraw due to another positive COVID-19 test. His first positive came after the third round of the Memorial Tournament, when Rahm had a six-stroke lead before being forced to withdraw. Two weeks later, Rahm won his first major at the U.S. Open. This has clearly been a tumultuous year for the world No. 1.
 
With Rahm out, British Open champion Collin Morikawa is the favorite at 7-1. Fellow Team USA members Xander Schauffele (9-1) and Justin Thomas (11-1) follow in the marketplace. Three of Schauffele’s four PGA Tour victories have come in smaller-field events. Thomas has had an up-and-down year but did win the Players Championship against one of the world’s best fields. World No. 6 Bryson DeChambeau was supposed to be the fourth member of Team USA but also had to drop out due to a positive COVID-19 test. So Patrick Reed (18-1) takes his spot. Reed has had a down year despite his runaway win at the Farmers Insurance Open in February, but he loves international competitions and tied for 11th at the last Olympics in Rio. 
 
Viktor Hovland (12-1) of Norway and Rory McIlroy (12-1) of Ireland are the top-ranked Europeans in the field, with Paul Casey (16-1) of Britain close behind. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (14-1) had the defining moment of his career with his first major victory at the Masters in April. Nevertheless, it might be more important to him to win the Olympic gold medal as the face of golf in his home nation. He has won two events at this venue, the 2009 Japan Junior and the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur.
 
 
One of the more interesting subplots involves the two golfers from South Korea, Sungjae Im (30-1) and Si Woo Kim (45-1). Both bypassed the British Open to prepare for the Olympics. South Korea requires all males between 18 and 28 to serve two years of military service. But in 1973, an exemption was added for athletes who win Olympic medals or gold medals at the Asian Games. 
 
This Olympic field is seen as much stronger at the top, as many players skipped the 2016 event due to Zika virus concerns in Brazil. 
 
The Event
 
Golf returned to the Olympics in 2016 for the first time since 1904. The 2020 qualification system and format were the same as used in 2016. Sixty players qualified for the event, which will consist of a 72-hole stroke-play tournament played over four days. A three-hole aggregate playoff will determine the three medalists in the event of a tie. The men’s event will be played first, with the women’s event to begin Aug. 4. 
 
Qualification was based on the Official World Golf Rankings as of June 21, with 60 players qualifying. The top 15 players made it, with a limit of four golfers per country who could get in this way. The remaining spots went to the highest-ranked players from countries that did not already have two golfers qualified. The International Golf Federation guaranteed that at least one golfer from the host nation and each geographical region — Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania — would qualify. 
 
By these criteria, here are the 60 players in the field:
 
Rank Name Country World
ranking
1 Justin Thomas
  United States
3
2 Collin Morikawa
  United States
4
3 Xander Schauffele
  United States
5
4 Patrick Reed
  United States
9
5 Rory McIlroy
  Ireland
10
6 Viktor Hovland
  Norway
14
7 Hideki Matsuyama
  Japan
16
8 Paul Casey
  Britain
20
9 Abraham Ancer
  Mexico
23
10 Sungjae Im
  South Korea
26
11 Cameron Smith
  Australia
28
12 Joaquin Niemann
  Chile
31
13 Tommy Fleetwood
  Britain
33
14 Corey Conners
  Canada
36
15 Garrick Higgo
  South Africa
38
16 Shane Lowry
  Ireland
42
17 Marc Leishman
  Australia
43
18 Christiaan Bezuidenhout
  South Africa
46
19 Si Woo Kim
  South Korea
49
20 Carlos Ortiz
  Mexico
53
21 Mackenzie Hughes
  Canada
63
22 Sebastian Munoz
  Colombia
67
23 Guido Migliozzi
  Italy
72
24 Rikuya Hoshino
  Japan
76
25 Antoine Rozner
  France
78
26 Thomas Detry
  Belgium
94
27 Alex Noren
  Sweden
95
28 Thomas Pieters
  Belgium
107
29 Kalle Samooja
  Finland
117
30 Matthias Schwab
  Austria
118
31 Rasmus Hojgaard
  Denmark
121
32 Sami Valimaki
  Finland
122
33 Jazz Janewattananond
  Thailand
129
34 Jhonattan Vegas
  Venezuela
130
35 Henrik Norlander
  Sweden
136
36 Mito Pereira
  Chile
146
37 Adri Arnaus
  Spain
147
38 Joachim B. Hansen
  Denmark
151
39 Rory Sabbatini
  Slovakia
167
40 Sepp Straka
  Austria
174
41 Ryan Fox
  New Zealand
178
42 Renato Paratore
  Italy
180
43 Pan Cheng-tsung
  Chinese Taipei
181
44 Romain Langasque
  France
186
45 Adrian Meronk
  Poland
189
46 Maximilian Kieffer
  Germany
193
47 Jorge Campillo
  Spain
213
48 Juvic Pagunsan
  Philippines
216
49 Ondrej Lieser
  Czech Republic
231
50 Scott Vincent
  Zimbabwe
239
51 Gunn Charoenkul
  Thailand
259
52 Hurly Long
  Germany
263
53 Fabrizio Zanotti
  Paraguay
280
54 Rafael Campos
  Puerto Rico
281
55 Gavin Green
  Malaysia
286
56 Yuan Yechun
  China
291
57 Kristian Krogh Johannessen
  Norway
292
58 Wu Ashun
  China
315
59 Anirban Lahiri
  India
340
60 Udayan Mane
  India
356
The following men removed themselves from possible qualification:
 
Dustin Johnson (2) of the U.S.
Sergio García (48) and Rafa Cabrera-Bello (140) of Spain
Adam Scott (41) of Australia
Bernd Wiesberger (54) of Austria
Danny Lee (191) of New Zealand
Louis Oosthuizen (12) of South Africa
Martin Kaymer (99) and Stephan Jaeger (114) of Germany
Tyrrell Hatton (11), Matthew Fitzpatrick (21) and Lee Westwood (27) of Britain
Camilo Villegas (225) of Colombia
Emiliano Grillo (74) of Argentina
Victor Perez (37) of France
Francesco Molinari (133) of Italy
 
Additionally, the Dutch Olympic Committee did not allow Joost Luiten (177) or Wil Besseling (221) to participate since it requires participants to be ranked in the top 100 in the world.
 
Before the start of the competition, Bryson DeChambeau tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced on the U.S. team by Patrick Reed. Jon Rahm of Spain also withdrew after a positive test and was replaced by Jorge Campillo.
 
The Course
 
The East Course at Kasumigaseki Country Club is the host venue. It is a classic, tree-lined course that was revamped by Tom and Logan Fazio in preparation for the Olympics. It opened in 1929 and was designed by Kinya Fujita, Shiro Akaboshi and Charles H. Alison. The private club in Kawagoe, Saitama, Japan, is about an hour north of the Olympic Village. The double greens were converted to singles that average 7,800 square feet, and bunkering was added. With almost 500 yards added to the East Course, the layout stretches to a par-71 of 7,466 yards. Putting surfaces have been relaid with 007 DSB Creeping Bentgrass that will run a little over 12 on the Stimpmeter. 
 
The fairways and rough are Zoysia grass that’s relatively thick at 3.5 inches. The fairways are generous, but tree trouble and some difficult shots out of the thicker rough loom. 
 
The East Course has hosted several professional and amateur tournaments, with the most recent being the Asian Amateur Championship in 2010. 
 
Typhoons can hit Japan at any moment this time of year. Players can expect hot and humid conditions with a heat index a little over 100 degrees. 
 
Olympics History
 
2016
Justin Rose (-16/268), gold, 12-1
Henrik Stenson (-14/270), silver, 6-1
Matt Kuchar (-13/271), bronze, 20-1
 
Statistical Angles 
 
The fairways are relatively wide, so expect players to take dead aim off the tee. Players who can mix length with accuracy should succeed here.
 
Strokes Gained Off the Tee (last 24 rounds)
 
 
1. Jhonattan Vegas 17.7
2. Abraham Ancer 17
3. Viktor Hovland 16.4
4. Corey Conners 15.5
5. Justin Thomas 15.1
6. Collin Morikawa 15.1
7. Mito Pereira 11.6 (20 rounds)
8. Joaquin Niemann 14.2
9. Anirban Lahiri 10.9
10. Si Woo Kim 10.2
11. Alexander Noren 9.5
12. Sebastian Munoz 8.8
 
As always, precise iron shots are important, especially to these larger-than-normal greens.
 
Strokes Gained, Approach (last 24 rounds)
1. Collin Morikawa 41.6
2. Paul Casey 25.9
3. Rory McIlroy 24.5
4. Hideki Matsuyama 24.1
5. Antoine Rozner 14.8 (12 rounds)
6. Shane Lowry 19
7. Viktor Hovland 18.1
8. Justin Thomas 17.5
9. Jhonattan Vegas 17.4
10. Xander Schauffele 17.1
11. Guido Migliozzi 8.2 (10 rounds)
12. Patrick Reed 16.9
Three of the par-4s, including No. 18, measure over 500 yards.
 
Strokes Gained, Par-4s 500+  Yards (last 24 rounds)
1. Thomas Pieters 9.1
2. Rory McIlroy 9
3. Patrick Reed 8.3
4. Collin Morikawa 7.4
5. Guido Migliozzi 7.1 (10 rounds)
6. Justin Thomas 7
7. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 7
8. Hideki Matsuyama 6.4
9. Thomas Detry 6.2
10. Paul Casey 5.2
11. Carlos Ortiz 4.9
12. Si Woo Kim 3.7
 
The greens here are Creeping Bentgrass. 
 
Strokes Gained: Putting (Bentgrass) (last 24 rounds)
1. Xander Schauffele 18.2
2. Alexander Noren 14.8
3. Cameron Smith 11.7
4. Sebastian Munoz 11.7
5. Patrick Reed 11.7
6. Joaquin Niemann 11.6
7. Mackenzie Hughes 11.1
8. Abraham Ancer 10.2
9. Anirban Lahiri 8.4
10. Rory McIlroy 7.4
11. Rory Sabbatini 6.5
12. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 6.4
The “Alison bunkers” are a trademark of original designer Charles Alison and are very deep.
 
Sand Saves Gained (last 24 rounds)
1. Marc Leishman 7.6
2. Rory Sabbatini 6.3
3. Xander Schauffele 5.6
4. Cameron Smith 5.2
5. Renato Paratore 4.2 (12 rounds)
6. Thomas Pieters 4.2
7. Juvic Pagunsan 3.3 (16 rounds)
8. C.T. Pan 2.3
9. Henrik Norlander 2.2
10. Gavin Green 2.1
11. Ashun Wu 2.1
12. Fabrizio Zanotti 2
Selections
 
Paul Casey 16-1
 
The 44-year-old Casey’s recent comments indicate how excited he is to represent Britain in not only the Olympics but likely the Ryder Cup this fall. When you are an older player, the opportunities to do so are fleeting. 
 
Casey has been all-around consistent, having won in Dubai this season and having posted seven top-10 finishes, including two in majors, in 15 starts. 
 
The Englishman ranks second in this field for shots gained: approach. He also putts better on Bentgrass and has won in Asia. Casey is 9-2 to medal at BetMGM.
 
Cameron Smith 23-1
 
The Australian has shown his mettle in international competition. He finished second with fellow Aussie Marc Leishman at the 2018 World Cup of Golf, and he defeated Justin Thomas in Sunday singles at the 2019 Presidents Cup.
 
Smith began his professional career on the Asian Tour, so he should be comfortable on this course. 
 
He also ranks near the top of this field in strokes gained putting and sand saves. Smith is 7-1 to medal at BetMGM. 
 
Joaquin Niemann 28-1
 
Niemann started the season with back-to-back runners-up in Hawaii and then cooled a bit before going bogey-free several weeks ago at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Then he bogeyed the first playoff hole to settle for another runner-up finish. 
 
The man from Chile is in the top 10 in this group for strokes gained off the tee.
 
In addition, he is a better putter on Bentgrass and rates sixth in this group for strokes gained putting on Bentgrass. Niemann is 13-2 to medal at BetMGM.
 
Sungjae Im 30-1
 
The South Korean played his first two full professional seasons on the Japan Golf Tour in 2017, so this event is a homecoming for him. 
 
He has had a bit of a slow year with just three top-10s in 21 starts, but a T-8 last month at the Rocket Mortgage Classic is encouraging. He is a very solid putter on Bentgrass, as evidenced by his T-2 at the Masters in 2020.
 
The motivation of avoiding two years of military service cannot be overstated. He saw what happened to the promising career of compatriot Bae Sang-moon. Im is 8-1 to medal at BetMGM. 
 
Thomas Pieters 70-1
 
Belgium’s Pieters rates as the eighth-best player on the European Tour in strokes gained tee to green and strokes gained off the tee.
 
His approach play (69th) has been down this year, but he did rank third for strokes gained: approach on tour last year.
 
He finished fourth at the 2016 Olympics when a third-round 77 kept him out of the medals. Pieters is 18-1 to medal at BetMGM.

 

 

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