George Lyon was the last man to win a gold medal for golf at the Summer Olympics. The Canadian topped the podium back in 1904. It’s been 112 years and finally golf is making its return at Rio 2016. Sixty men from thirty-four countries will tee it up on Thursday in the Barra da Tijuca zone of Rio de Janeiro. The Olympic Golf Course, designed by Gil Hanse, is a Par 71 that measures 7,128 yards.
Golf balls that miss the fairway will find themselves, not in the rough, but in native areas and bunkers. Sand and water make up the majority of the hazards. If you removed all the trees from Pinehurst and added some water hazards, this would be the result. The course set-up is fairly unique. There are four Par 5s, five Par 3s and nine Par 4s.
The only Gil Hanse original design that has hosted a serious tournament is Castle Stuart Golf Links in Scotland. The Scottish Open has been played there four times since it opened in 2009. Hanse has spoken about Castle Stuart a lot as an inspiration for this course. If the link to Castle Stuart is a good one then expect Nicolas Colsaerts, Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Mikko Ilonen, Soren Kjeldsen and Martin Kaymer to go well, but I think the weather will make this an entirely different challenge.
There will be wind on Thursday but the following three days will be fairly calm. Add the heat to that and the Melbourne Sandbelt courses seem like a much better fit. Royal Melbourne GC, Huntingdale GC, Kingston Heath GC and Metropolitan GC are the main courses for comparison. Pretty much any course that has hosted the Australian Masters will be a good guide.
Twenty-three of the sixty players in the no-cut field have won in 2016. There are several players from numerous tours playing solid golf right now:
- Henrik Stenson (1-T13-1-T7)
- Patrick Reed (T10-T12-T13-T11)
- Jhonattan Vegas (T4-1-T22)
- Ryan Fox (T7-2-T4-T18-1)
- C.T. Pan (T19-T2-T16-T10-6-T11)
- Lin Wen-Tang (T5-T3-2)
Probably the best tournament leaderboard to look at as a guide this week is the 2013 World Cup of Golf. The field was made up of sixty men from thirty-four countries (exact same as this week). It was played at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club and the field was of a similar quality. The Olympic golf has a slightly higher quality but it’s not a huge difference. Matt Kuchar was 4th that week, the best of anyone in this field.
Patrick Reed is first up for me at 18/1. The American will be an incredibly popular choice this week and deservedly so. A late qualifier for the United States, Reed has been bouyant in interviews leading up to this week. Top 15 finishes in all of his last four starts show how well he’s playing. Reed has won four times in 118 PGA Tour starts and in a weak-ish sixty man field, 18/1 seems more than fair.
One of his wins came at Doral in 2014. That’s a Gil Hanse redesign. It isn’t the best pointer but it is one of the only Hanse influenced courses that’s regularly played. A T10 on his only start at Castle Stuart is yet another positive. Patrick Reed and the Olympic Gold Medal just go together in my head. I fully expect the self-assured American to be right in the picture on Sunday.
Scott Hend is my next bet. At 100/1, the Australian looks an absolutely cracking pick in this small field. Hend has won twice in 2016 and I really like this course for him. I’ve also taken the 80/1 for him to be First Round Leader. Having made his last four cuts without ever really threatening the leaders, Hend is coming in under the radar this week.
Staying in Oceania, Ryan Fox is up next at 125/1. The New Zealander won on his last start and has a scoring average of 68.1 for his last twenty rounds. In 2013, Fox was T5 at the Talisker Masters at Royal Melbourne GC. A two-time winner on the PGA Tour of Australasia and also on the Challenge Tour, Fox seems ready to make the step up.
Finally, I’ll be having a small bet on Lin Wen-Tang at 300/1. T5-T3-2 in his last three starts. The next step is a win, right? If you’re questioning Lin’s quality, he beat Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari in a playoff to win the 2008 UBS Hong Kong Open. Wen-Tang has five other wins on the Asian Tour and in his current form, I don’t think a Top 5 is out of the question.