A penny for the thoughts of McIlroy and co. as they tuned in to the Opening Ceremony on Friday night. Zika or no Zika, the Olympics are the pinnacle of sport, and the world’s top four ranked players – none of whom have made the trip to Rio – must have looked on with a tinge of regret.
The carnival of media coverage around golf at the Olympics wouldn’t have looked out of place on the streets of the city in which this year’s games are hosted. Matt Kuchar didn’t know the format, McIlroy came out in public to say he wouldn’t even bother watching, and the Zika virus wiped out a host of the world’s top ranked players before they could even set foot on the Copacabana. Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, the list goes on.
Spieth was at least more constructive in his decision not to attend, citing the fact it had been the most difficult decision of his career and was still looking forward to playing in “four or five” in the future.
There are at least some household names for Olympics organisers to cling to: Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Open champion Henrik Stenson all lend credence to the men’s event whilst Lydia Ko, the #1 ranked phenom of women’s golf, leads a strong female field.
— Justin Rose (@JustinRose99) August 5, 2016
The course even came in for praise in a test event earlier this year, and there certainly seems to be feel good, Instagram laden atmosphere which doesn’t come attached to the sports for which these two weeks have genuine relevance.
Below is a look at the players who have made the trip and could be taking home a gold on the 14th.
Henrik Stenson – 6/1
The big Swede put on an exhibition of golf at The Open and comes into the week straight off the back of a strong showing in the PGA Championship (T7). Has a hectic schedule and the fanfare that success entails zapped energy levels? Punters will be hoping he’s got plenty left in the tank but, given the absence of so many top names, he might not even need to be 100% to maneuver his way to the top of this podium.
The course has been kept a secret of sorts but it looks to be a cross between a links style track and a manicured American behemoth. Given Stenson’s proven prowess on both, combined with his recent form, it’s difficult to envisage anything but a strong week for the 40 year old.
Patrick Reed – 16/1
Americans love the Olympics. I love Patrick Reed’s form. Two top 15’s in July’s majors hint at an emergence of form that had rarely peeped its head this season. Coupled with the euphoria that follows any Team USA and subsequent support that the 30 year old will receive this week, it could even start feeling like a precursor to September’s Ryder Cup for young Reed this week.
Martin Kaymer – 18/1
Das German has kept a low profile since losing a 10 shot lead in the final 13 holes of the Abu Dhabi HSBC earlier in the year.
— Martin Kaymer (@MKaymer59) August 7, 2016
Things have been a little steadier since, I wouldn’t bet against a player who has finished outside of the top 10 only three times in his last eight events.
Those finishes included two top 40 finishes at The Open and U.S Open and a 13th place at the Scottish Open. Could he spark a German Gold Rush?
Emiliano Grillo – 28/1
The little known Argentinian has ground his way to #37 in the world at the time of writing. He’s had some particularly impressive finishes in the year’s majors: 17th at Augusta, 12th at The Open and 13th at the PGA. A more average 54th place at the U.S. Open aside, 28/1 looks really good value for a player who will doubtless be well supported in his home continent.
Rafa Cabrera Bello – 33/1
Cabrera Bello casts a shadow of his own these days. After lingering so long in compatriot Sergio Garcia’s, the world #29 now represents a genuine force in world golf. A gold would be a stretch but don’t be surprised to see the emerging Spaniard notching a finish in the top five.
Fabrizio Zanotti – 239/1. Those kind of odds suggest a level of uselessness usually reserved for the manager of the England football team. Zanotti just doesn’t fit that mould – if you can find a market offering a top 20 finish, eat it up.