The men's field competed for Olympic medals last week in Tokyo with Xander Schauffele (USA) holding on to win Olympic gold over a hard-charging Rory Sabbatini (Slovakia), who shot a course-record 61 to grab the silver medal. Taiwan's C.T. Pan emerged from a seven-man playoff to nab the bronze. This week, it is the ladies’ turn for Olympics competition at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
World No. 1 Nelly Korda (USA) is the favorite on the board this week at 7-1. She has won three times this year, including her first major at the Women's PGA Championship, so her form is in tip-top shape. Prior to this year, Korda’s only LPGA wins had come in Taiwan and Australia, so she has a proven track record of success on this side of the globe.
Following Korda is a quartet of South Koreans who rank No. 2, 3, 4, and 6 in the world, respectively. Jin Young Ko (8-1), 2016 Olympic champion Inbee Park (10-1), Sei Young Kim (12-1) and Hyo Joo Kim (12-1) all have won events on the LPGA Tour this season.
Danielle Kang (USA) and Ariya Jutanugarn (Thailand), a two-time event winner this year, are next at 14-1, followed by 2016 Olympic silver medalist Lydia Ko (New Zealand), another event winner this season, at 16-1 and Patty Tavatanakit (Thailand), who won a major earlier this season at the ANA Inspiration, is priced this week at 18-1 along with Brooke Henderson (Canada).
Nasa Hataoka (Japan), priced at 20-1, recovered a month later to win an LPGA Tour event after being defeated in a playoff at the U.S. Women's Open by Yuka Saso (Philippines), who is 28-1 this week. Minjee Lee (Australia) is the LPGA's last major winner with a victory in The Evian Championship two weeks ago and she shares a 22-1 tag with Lexi Thompson (USA). Rounding out the contingent for Team USA is Jessica Korda at 28-1. Shanshan Feng (China, the 2016 bronze medalist, also returns to Olympic competition at 22-1.
Golf returned to the Olympics in 2016, for the first time since 1904. The 2020 qualification system and format of the events were the same as used in 2016, as 60 players qualified for each event, which will consist of a 72-hole individual stroke play tournament, played over four days. A three-hole aggregate playoff will determine the three medals in the event of a tie.
Qualification was based on the Women's World Golf Rankings as of June 28, with a total of 60 players qualifying. The top 15 players qualified, with a limit of four golfers per country that could qualify this way. The remaining spots went to the highest-ranked players from countries that did not already have two golfers qualified. The IGF (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.
The East Course at Kasumigaseki Country Club serves as the host venue for the 2020 Olympic Games. It is a classical, tree-lined affair that’s been revamped by Tom and Logan Fazio in preparation for the Olympics, but originally opened in 1929 and was designed by Kinya Fujita, Shiro Akaboshi and Charles H. Alison. The private club is about an hour north of the Olympic Village. The double greens were converted to singles (7,800 avg sq ft.) and some more bunkering was added. This is the same course that men played on last week, but the length will be reduced by 800 yards to 6,648 yards. Putting surfaces have been re-laid with 007 DSB Creeping Bentgrass that will run a little over 12 on the stimpmeter.
The fairways and rough are Zoysia grass, which is relatively thick at 3.5 inches. The fairways are relatively generous, but tree trouble can loom as well as forcing some difficult shots out of the thicker rough.
The East Course has hosted several professional and amateur tournaments including the Asian Amateur Championship in 2010 and, of course, last week's men's competition.
Typhoon season can occur in Japan at any moment this time of year. Players can expect hot and humid conditions with the heat index getting to a little over 100 degrees. Low scoring in the high teens should probably be expected just like the men's competition last week.
Gold: Inbee Park (South Korea) -16/268
Silver: Lydia Ko (New Zealand) -11/273
Bronze: Shanshan Feng (China) -10/274
Ariya Jutanugarn (14-1)
Jutanugarn went nearly three years without a victory until earlier this May with a win in her home country at the Honda LPGA Thailand. She also teamed up with older sister Moriya to give big sis her first win in over three years with a triumph at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational just three weeks ago.
She was tied for 2nd after 36 holes at the Evian Championship two weeks ago before falling to T-19 on the weekend.
At the last Olympics in Rio, she was the first-round leader but was forced to withdraw after the second round due to a left knee injury. Tokyo provides an opportunity for redemption.
Patty Tavatanakit (18-1)
Tavatanakit, also representing Thailand, won the season's first major at the ANA Inspiration.
She has not played since late June at the KPMG Women's PGA (T-5) and was forced to withdraw from the Evian Championship due to visa issues.
Since that major championship victory, she has posted four top-five finishes in seven starts, so she has continued top-class form.
Nasa Hataoka 20-1
Hataoka won three weeks ago on the LPGA Tour in her last start at the Marathon Classic. She was second at the U.S. Open, losing in a playoff to Yuka Saso.
There is always pressure to perform at home and there certainly will be a fair amount for Hataoka, but Hideki Matsuyama was a contender all weekend last week and Hataoka should be as well.
Xi Yiu Lin (35-1)
Lin, from China, has three Top 10s in her last seven starts.
Matilda Castren (40-1)
The Florida State product from Finland has two wins and a runner-up finish in her last six starts worldwide, along with two other top-20s in that time frame.
Castren ranks fourth on the LPGA Tour for Greens In Regulation.