Golf’s return to the Olympics
In the upcoming week we will see the return of golf in the Olympics for the first time since 1904!
All year-long we have seen many of the top names pull out of this event, but there is still 60 golfers hungry for medals.
The Olympic Course is standard in length so there should be no bias to which sort of golfer can win here.
Gill Hanse was entrusted with designing the course and early descriptions suggest it has a classic Australian sand belt feel about it.
Given there is no course form to go by or any previous stats, it remains to be seen what needs to be done to win here.
Hanse was responsible for the restoration of TPC Boston and Trump Doral (Blue Monster) in 2007 and 2013 respectively. The former hosts the Deutsche Bank Championship annually, whilst the latter hosts the WGC- Cadillac Championship.
Another original design by Hanse used in competition is Castle Stuart Golf Links. There may well be similarities, however a links course in Scotland won’t share too much in common with this course in Rio, Brazil.
Of the World’s top-10 players, there are four competing this week. Henrik Stenson will represent Sweden, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler will partner up for Team USA and Danny Willett will look to add a gold medal to his Green Jacket.
Stenson will be joined by David Lingmerth in the yellow and blue, while Justin Rose will join forces with Willett for Team GB.
Another hot favourite for the gold will be Spain, who are represented by the World No.11 in Sergio Garcia and No.29 Rafa Cabrera-Bello.
Enough of the favourites though, let’s look at those somewhat out of the spotlight.
Padraig Harrington (Ireland)
When winning the Honda Classic last year, Harrington proved to everybody he’s not quite done yet.
A three-time major champion, the Irishman is not afraid of the big stage and will relish the chance to win a medal for his country.
He’s been in pretty good form too. He has made his last six straight cuts, including a T13 finish at the USPGA two weeks ago.
Harrington is no stranger to representing his country. He has represented Ireland at the World Cup 9 times, played for GB and Irleand twice as an amateur in the Walker Cup and also played in 6 Ryder Cups for Europe.
Given his experience is playing for his country and the obvious pride and enjoyment he gets out of it, I think he stands a great chance in a reduced field.
Harrington’s tee times were revealed earlier and he tweeted to say “#OlympicGolf 2 early times 2nd off at 7.41 Thursday and then Friday at 9.36. Could be to my advantage if the wind picks up during the day.”
Now this may not work in his favour, it is just a guess at this stage, but it is interesting nonetheless.
If you are looking at Castle Stuart as an indicator, Harrington has a good record there. In four Scottish Open appearances at Castle Stuart, Harrington has finished 14-16-MC-21.
Alongside him will be Seamus Power who became the first Irish player to win on the Web.com Tour, earlier this year.
Jhonnatan Vegas (Venezuela)
Vegas won three weeks ago at the RBC Candian Open and followed that up with a 22nd at the USPGA.
With this form behind him, plus the 4th place finish the week before his win, he must be brimming with confidence.
Vegas beat a good field to win in Canada so a 60-man field which is definitely weaker shouldn’t phase him. Of course he has four of the world’s best trying to beat him, but I doubt that’ll get to him.
The fact he is South American is worth considering also. Although he is based in North America, he will very comfortable in Rio. This hasn’t swayed my decision at all, but it can only be seen as a positive.
Vegas has had a fairly consistent season and if he can find one more big performance this season, this is where he wants to find it.
Of course the financial pull of the FedEx Cup play-offs is huge, but this could be a one in a life-time chance. The future of golf in the Olympics is by no means clear so it may be now or never.
Should he win gold this week, Vegas will become just the third Venezuelan athlete to do so. Only Francisco Rodriguez (Boxing 1968) and Rubén Limardo (Fencing 2012) have done it before him.
Any medal however will be seen as a bonus for Venezuela. A country, which is relatively small on the Olympic stage will be happy with any podium finish.
This isn’t Vegas’ first rodeo representing his country. He represented Venezuela at the 2009 World Cup.
Vegas is Venezuela’s sole representative in the field this week.
Scott Hend (Australia)
Australia will obviously be disappointed not to have Adam Scott and Jason Day in Rio, but Scott Hend will give them a fighting chance.
Hend has won twice in 2016, three times in total in the last 12 months. These wins mostly came on the Asia Tour where he ranks T3 for all-time wins (8) with Lee Westwood and Prayed Marksaeng. The True Thailand Classic was co-sanctioned by the European Tour where he has played fantastically throughout the year.
If, like it has been suggested this course plays like an Australian sand belt course, Hend should feel at home.
Although just two of his 14 professional wins have come on a main tour (European), Hend is an experienced winner and will look to add to his tally here.
Since winning the Queen’s Cup six starts ago, Hend has missed just one cut but also not finished better than T42. If he can channel some of his mid-season form he could take the spoils here in Rio.
At time of writing, Australia have 6 medals (3 gold and 3 bronze) and Hend will look to carry on that momentum.
Hend will look for a good performance from team-mate, Marcus Fraser.