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2016 Olympics - Men's Golf


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For the first time since 1904, golf is an Olympic sport. I don't know how many non-golf fans are actually planning to watch any of it, but here's a little breakdown for the curious uninformed.

Qualification: Players qualified based on the official world golf rankings. The top two players from each country were chosen down the rankings until the field was full, with the exception that up to four players from one country could qualify provided they were all within the top 15. This resulted in four athletes representing the USA and all other nations capped at two.

The Controversy: The decision to bring golf back to the Olympics might have excited fans, but it was pretty unpopular among professional golfers. Over the past few months, pros have been dropping out like flies, leaving the men's competition gutted. Australia, Ireland, and South Africa in particular would have been strong contenders and now don't have much of a prayer.

Why?: Most players refrained from stating a real opinion and stuck to the consensus excuse that Brazil was just too dangerous to visit for a week. In reality there were a ton of factors involved, fear of Brazil probably not ever being one of them. Players were annoyed and exhausted by a compressed season caused by the Olympics' overlap with the traditional week of the PGA Championship. A four million dollar prize pool in the John Deere Classic, the same week as the Olympic tournament, spoke louder than a gold medal to some. The event felt cheap and awkward to others--taking a casual stroll through Rio and happening to win an Olympic Gold Medal because of a weak and uninvested field was a sort of disservice to athletes in other sports who'd trained their whole lives to get here.  Why not give the slot to some sport that has no more prestigious venue?  At the end of the day, the best of the best couldn't make themselves want it and that mentality trickled down the line.

The Consequence: As things stand, golf is already locked in for the 2020 Olympics and will probably take another 100 year hiatus after that, unless the event ends in spectacular form and causes a change in perspective over the next four years. In the meantime, it will be very interesting to see if an underdog in the sea of lower-ranked players can overcome the small pocket of top tier golfers who remain.

Who's going to medal?: It depends a lot on how seriously the best players take this. This isn't like a major, where you're playing against nothing but the best and every player in the field wants to win it just as bad as you do. There will be mixed attitudes even among those who didn't drop out. A lot of great players who don't really care that much. A lot of mediocre players who care deeply but probably don't have what it takes.

But I'll humor myself with predictions:

23px-Flag_of_Sweden.svg.png Sweden's Henrik Stenson is the clear favorite--he's been one of the best players in golf for ages, and July was the most successful month of his career. All of the other golfers on his level right now--Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson--either packed their bags and went home or didn't qualify due to America being capped at four.  (Sure would have been interesting if the field had been populated closer to the event.  Phil Mickelson would have qualified, and if he'd declined it would have gone to PGA Champion Jimmy Walker.)  But I don't know if simply being that good and that hot right now is really what this event is going to take. Stenson is a pretty laid back guy. He just etched his name in the legacy of golf by winning a major championship. I think he's going to walk into Rio without a care in the world and post a good score because of it, but I'm not sure he'll have the drive to win.

23px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svg.png Bubba Watson might be a walking caricature of American self-righteousness, but I think he's going to want it really bad, if for all the wrong reasons. He's a really intense player and I could just see him taking this way more seriously than the other high profile players in the field and running away with it.

23px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svg.png Rickie Fowler has shown a lot of enthusiasm in venues that represent his country in the past. He's a distinctly team player in a sport where players are almost never on a team, and I think the whole idea of an Olympic medal just kind of suits him. He's going to play to win and he's going to try to motivate the other Americans in the field to do the same.

23px-Flag_of_Spain.svg.png Sergio Garcia would have multiple major championships under his belt if he didn't so frequently fall victim to bad decision-making under pressure. He's the best player of this era to never win a major. His struggle is all mental. The Olympics sort of shake that up a bit, and depending on how he wraps his head around the uniqueness of this event he might be able to bring his A game without feeling the burden of needing to win.

23px-Flag_of_Argentina.svg.png Emiliano Grillo? Who what? This kid's my underdog pick to take it. Got his first PGA Tour win last fall. Tied 17th in the Masters, first appearance. Tied 12th in the Open Championship, first appearance. Tied 13th in the PGA Championship. He's been lurking around at the top of the just-barely-not-important-enough-to-matter crowd all year and I've had it in my head for a while now that he's about to come out and win something. 23 years old when most of these golfers must feel ancient among all the young athletes from other sports in Rio. Representing Argentina in the first games ever hosted in South America. He's 37th in the world, but only 13th in the tournament. I don't know, I just have a feeling the stars might align for him here. Bronze medal?

tl;dr: Prioritize the women's competition, because it didn't suffer the same backlash and has a way more legit field. But I'll be watching both. :)

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Round 1 is done!

 

23px-Flag_of_Australia.svg.png Marcus Fraser is currently sitting in 1st place with an Olympic record opening round score of -8.

 

23px-Flag_of_Sweden.svg.png Henrick Stenson and 23px-Flag_of_Canada.svg.png Graham DeLaet are tied for second at -5, and 23px-Flag_of_France.svg.png Gregory Bourdy, 23px-Flag_of_Spain.svg.png Rafael Cabrera-Bello, 23px-Flag_of_Germany.svg.png Alex Cejka, 23px-Flag_of_Belgium_(civil).svg.png Thomas Pieters, and 23px-Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg.png Justin Rose all hold a share of 4th place at -4.

 

How did my predictions do? 23px-Flag_of_Spain.svg.png Sergio Garcia shot a decent -2, My underdog to keep an eye on 23px-Flag_of_Argentina.svg.png Emiliano Grillo shot -1. And my American picks? 23px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svg.png Bubba Watson ended the day with an unimpressive +2, and 23px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svg.png Rickie Fowler had the third worst score of the 60 competitors with +4. Oops.

 

Now what? 23px-Flag_of_Australia.svg.png Marcus Fraser is 90th in the world, He was 7th in line among Australians to qualify for the Olympics and only got in because so many others withdrew. He's not very likely to medal in spite of a huge day 1 performance. You don't get into the top few hundred in the world if you aren't capable of playing a great round of golf. What distinguishes the top of the pack is their ability to do it consistently across four days under tremendous pressure. Fraser's won on a professional level four times before, and bravo to him if he can see this through. But it's not terribly uncommon to see a lower-ranked player like him in this position after the first day, and they almost never hold on to the lead. 23px-Flag_of_Sweden.svg.png Henrick Stenson is still the most likely player to win it. He is highly capable of stringing together three more days at 4 or 5 under par, and a single great round followed by three respectable ones isn't going to beat that. 23px-Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg.png Justin Rose, 23px-Flag_of_Spain.svg.png Sergio Garcia, and 23px-Flag_of_Germany.svg.png Martin Kaymer (-2) are all proven winners in good positions to make a run at it too. I could see all three medals landing among those four.

Edited by Shad_
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Other players to keep an eye on?

 

I thought 23px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svg.png Matt Kuchar was the least likely American to win it at the start, but he's in the best position at -2, and he's definitely one of the best players in the field. He's historically probably the most consistent of the four Americans, he's just been a little underwhelming lately. Maybe this will be his week.

 

23px-Flag_of_Italy.svg.png Matteo Manassero also shot -2. His career has been on the down slope for a long time now. He's currently all the way down to #338 in the world, and that's an improvement after ending last year at a miserable #635. He only got here because fellow countryman Francesco Molinari withdrew, and even then he was one of the lowest ranked players to get in. Manassero was one of the loudest voices fighting to bring golf back into the Olympics, and this event arguably mattered more to him than anyone else in the field. I expected a dismal performance in spite of this, but he ended the first round in contention. It will be interesting to see if his sheer determination to win this tournament can overcome his major struggles of the past few years.

 

But this early on, there's still plenty of time for anyone to establish a strong position. 23px-Flag_of_Spain.svg.png Rafael Cabrera-Bello and 23px-Flag_of_Canada.svg.png Graham DeLaet in particular both strike me as players who could hold on to their early leads for a while and might surprise us in the end.

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Half way through the final round, looking like gold and silver will go between 23px-Flag_of_Sweden.svg.png Henrick Stenson and 23px-Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg.png Justin Rose as expected, with bronze to 23px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svg.png Matt Kuchar.  There's still room to mix it up, but those three are pretty well in control of their fates at this point, and if they finish strong I don't see any of them not medaling.  The next closest players with a shot at bronze right now are 23px-Flag_of_Spain.svg.png Rafael Cabrera-Bello, 23px-Flag_of_Australia.svg.png Marcus Fraser, and, a bit of a surprise, 23px-Flag_of_Thailand.svg.png Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

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I think that went about as well as anyone could have hoped.  23px-Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg.png Justin Rose and 23px-Flag_of_Sweden.svg.png Henrick Stenson duked it out for gold and silver all day, with Rose ultimately taking control on the 18th.  23px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svg.png Matt Kuchar played a spectacular round to claim bronze and ensure an all-star roster on the podiums.

 

Golf's continued existence as an Olympic sport has been very much in doubt ever since the best in the world started dropping out like flies.  I think that might have changed, and not just because the first go around resulted in historically significant names walking away with the medals.  Players across the board expressed a change in perspective as the week wore on.  The question going into the Olympics was is this really that significant of an event in the legacy of golf?  The impression walking away was a humbling realization that golf might just not be that significant in the legacy of the Olympics.  The Olympics were something way, way, way bigger than golf, and for one week in Rio the desire to contribute to that trumped players' desires to etch their names in the annals of their own profession.

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