After a 112-year absence, golf returns to the Olympic Games on Thursday when 60 players from around the world tee-off in a four-round, stroke-play competition.
Much of the news in the lead-up was how Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Speith and Rory McIlroy --the current top four in the World Golf Rankings--are all bypassing the Olympics. While that's certainly a disappointment, it by no means torpedoes the event. There is still a salty field lined up that should provide some interesting golf.
The United States is the only country with four representatives, which is the maximum allowed, and all are among the Top 20 of the World Golf Rankings. Despite that impressive profile of the Americans, oddsmakers have pegged a group of Europeans as most likely to take home gold. Sweden's Henrik Stenson (+500), Spain's Sergio Garcia (+700) and Great Britain's Justin Rose (+1000) are the top three betting choices, with Bubba Watson at +1400 being the lowest-priced American.
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This tournament, which is the first in the Olympics since the 1904 Summer Games in St. Louis, is being played on the new Olympic Golf Course in Rio. It is a par 71, links-style course measuring 7,128 yards. There are three Par 5s, with the longest measuring 591 yards. Early reviews indicate the course favors players with strong iron play, so take that into consideration in your handicapping.
As noted, there are 60 golfers from around the world teeing off in Round 1. However, about one-third of the field is considered to be below PGA Tour-caliber and probably not a threat. Below are the Top-20 betting choices, courtesy of Bovada, followed by analysis and predictions.
Top 20 Betting Choices for Men's Olympics Golf (odds from Bovada)
Henrik Stenson (Swe) +500
Sergio Garcia (Esp) +700
Justin Rose (GBR) +1000
Bubba Watson (USA) +1400
Rickie Fowler (USA) +1400
Martin Kaymer (Ger) +1600
Matt Kuchar (USA) +1600
Patrick Reed (USA) +1800
Daniel Willett (GBR) +2200
Emiliano Grillo (Arg) +2500
Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp) +2800
Byeong-hun An (Kor) +4000
Padraig Harrington (Ire) +4000
Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) +4000
Bernd Weisberger (Aut) +5000
Danny Lee (NZL) +5000
David Lingmerth (Swe) +5000
Jhonathan Vegas (Ven) +5000
Soren Kjeldsen (Den) +5000
Thomas Peiters (Bel) +5000
Matt Kuchar (+1600)
Ranked No. 20 in the world, Kuchar seems overly due for a win this season. He has finished in the Top 10 nine times this year without victory. The biggest concern with Kuchar is that he's played poorly in the biggest tournaments. Kuchar finished in a tie for 46th in both the U.S. and British Opens and then missed the cut in the PGA Championship two weeks ago. Still, he's a solid irons player who is generally "right there." A couple of breaks could have Kuchar wearing gold.
Martin Kaymer (+1600)
The German is a two-time major winner (2010 PGA, 2014 US Open) who has embraced this tournament wholeheartedly. Kaymer brings in good recent form as he shot a minus-8 in last month's PGA Championship to finish tied for seventh. He also boasts Top-10 finishes this year in both the BMW PGA Championship and Open de France on the European Tour.
Kuchar's success this season has partially been the result of a top-flight short game. If that continues, he should score well on this course.
Jhonathan Vegas (+5000)
This would seem the best value of the field given the Venezuelan's recent good form. Vegas won the RBC Canadian Open three weeks ago, which followed a Top-5 finish in the Barbasol Championship the previous week. In his most recent outing, Vegas scored a minus-4 to finish in a tie for 22nd in the PGA Championship.
One other reason for optimism with Vegas is the course should play to his strengths. If in fact the course does favor strong iron play, consider that Vegas ranks No. 4 on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation. Only Henrik Stenson in this field ranks higher.
So there you go, the return of golf to the Olympics. This should be fun. Next week we'll preview the women's tournament. Good luck.
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