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Olympics Golf Tips: Four picks for Tokyo 2021

Olympics Golf Tips: Thomas Pieters features at 66/1.
Olympics Golf Tips: Thomas Pieters features at 66/1.

After being away for 112 years, golf returned to the Olympic Games five years ago in Rio. Justin Rose picking up the gold for Team GB and with it writing his name into the history books. Onto this year’s edition at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, as the players head to Kasumigaseki Country Club’s East Course.

This classic parkland course was originally designed by two local golfers in 1929 but they turned to renowned British architect CH Alison to redesign, after members expressed dissatisfaction with the original. It was this design which helped lift the reputation of the course to that of one of the best in Japan.

Tom Fazio was brought in to renovate the course in 2016 to ready it for the Olympics, with the most notable change coming in the form of converting all the dual green complexes into single greens. Which are gently undulating and will be set up to play firm and fast, weather permitting.

Golf tips

The course is a lengthy 7447 yard, tree-lined par 71. Heavily bunkered throughout, particularly around the greens and water coming into play on the back nine. Made up of three par 5s, two huge at over 600 yards, four par 3s and 11 par 4s. With some of those par 4s measuring over or close to 500 yards, added to those lengthy par 5s, it really looks like a course where quality ball-striking will be huge.

Japanese events can often be at the mercy of some pretty erratic and difficult weather, which is the case this week with thunderstorms currently forecast throughout the event and light winds, though this can of course change.

The field has been hit by a number of high profile withdrawals over recent days, with Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau both pulling out due to covid. This leaves a very strong trio of Americans, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele, as the highest ranked players in the field. The winner in Rio, Justin Rose didn’t qualify, with Great Britain represented by a strong duo of Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood.

Olympics 2021 - Golf Tips

Golf Odds
Paul Casey E/W (6 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-07-26 14:00 Odds subject to change.

Open Champion Collin Morikawa rightfully heads the betting and is followed by fellow Americans, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele. Next come Rory Mcilroy and Viktor Hovland. All have obvious chances, with Morikawa and Hovland my favourites of that group, as the other three all have question marks over recent form, amongst other things. Though I find both short enough, with Morikawa at 7/1 and Hovland 12/1. Instead I’m going to go for back to back victories for Team GB in the event and start the week’s selections with Paul Casey.

It’s been another really strong year for the Englishman, 8 top 10s in 15 starts, including a comfortable four shot victory in Dubai at the start of the year. He’s recorded three excellent performances in majors in his last 5 starts, 4th at the PGA Championship, 7th at the US Open and then 15th in the Open Championship last time out. 

Casey is a fantastic ball-striker, where he ranks 13th on the PGA Tour this season, with iron play the standout part of his game, ranking 2nd amongst some of the world’s absolute best. He hits it far and straight enough off tee and has a good short game. All in all, he looks a great fit for how I expect this course to play this week.

A game that can contend just about anywhere and is playing some of the most excellently consistent golf of his career at the moment. He appears to be in an excellent place in terms of how he views his game and like many is absolutely relishing the opportunity to represent his country, recently speaking about how this summer could be a career defining one for him with the Olympics and Ryder Cup. Hopefully this comes to fruition for Casey and he picks up a 2nd gold for Team GB in successive Olympics.

Sungjae Im E/W (6 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-07-26 14:05 Odds subject to change.

A bit of a ho-hum year for Sungjae, where he’s playing well if unspectacularly. Just four missed cuts in 21 but only three top 10s. Though he did produce one of the best performances of his season when 8th at the Rocket Mortgage Classic two starts ago, ranking an encouraging 5th tee-to-green.

He’s an excellent ball-striker, ranking 11th on tour and is also a quality putter, where he ranks 38th. His iron play is a little in and out but is showing positive signs lately, particularly in his 35th place at the Palmetto Championship, where he ranked 7th in approach.

He has great form on similarly long, tree-lined courses, 2nd at Augusta last year in The Masters and also two 3rd place finishes in the Arnold Palmer Invitational to his name. Obviously being from this part of the world he should feel right at home and even more so in Japan as he spent the first two years of his pro career playing on the Japanese Tour. 

Not only could this be a career defining moment for Im but it would be an absolutely life changing one. He has more to gain from winning at the Olympics than anyone bar compatriot Siwoo Kim. With South Korean men required to complete mandatory military service before the age of 28, this is one of few get outs for golfers, along with winning a major. With that added motivation, combined with a suitable game, encouraging recent form and the comfort factor, I think the classy Korean may well produce the biggest performance of his career to date.

Jazz Janewattananond E/W (6 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-07-26 14:05 Odds subject to change.

Matthias Schwab is one of the best ball-strikers and iron players in this field, let alone on the European Tour and should find the course to his liking. Whilst Mito Pereira carried on his impressive step up to the PGA Tour last week in the 3M Open but I’m going to take a shot at another player who will feel more comfortable than most this week, with Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond.

His recent form is uninspiring, with four missed cuts in his last six, though did show improvement on his last start when finishing 46th in The Open. He was also 2nd in Kenya and 11th in the British Masters on his two starts prior to this.

He’s performed well in stronger fields before, most notably when entering the final round of the 2019 PGA Championship in 2nd, before falling to 14th in the final round. Also finishing 14th that year in the WGC-HSBC Champions, showing his ability to mix it at this level with the best players in the game. This is on show further, when we look at the biggest win of his career in the Singapore Open in 2019, impressively beating names like Paul Casey, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Sergio Garcia to take the title.

A prolific winner in this part of the world, where he’s won 6 times on the Asian Tour, all coming before he turned 25. He’s too spent time playing in Japan and posted a video on his Instagram last week showing himself getting some practice in at this week’s course. 

A good, solid tee-to-green game, where he ranks 59th on the European Tour and 29th in greens in regulation. He’s a player who has already achieved plenty in his short career and shown that he has a promising future at a higher level in the game. I fancy him to once again make his presence felt amongst some of the world’s top players this week.

Thomas Pieters E/W (6 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-07-26 14:05 Odds subject to change.

Of the others, I liked Alex Noren, who’s had some really good performance in the last month or two but feel he’s short enough in the betting now. Whilst Thomas Detry continues to knock on the door without quite walking through it. Instead, I’m going to take his compatriot, Thomas Pieters as my last bet of the week.

Go back to 2017 and the extremely gifted Belgian was well on his way to a career right at the very top of the game. 4th in The Masters, 4th in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and 5th in the WGC-Mexico. He got himself up to 24th in the world and looked a player who’d be contending, maybe even winning majors over the coming years. This hasn’t quite happened and though he’s still played consistently good golf, he’s found wins hard to come by, despite winning the Czech Masters in 2019 and currently sits at his lowest point in the world rankings since 2015.

2021 has been more of the same, consistently decent golf without ever really looking like winning an event but has played some eye-catching golf in his last three starts, 12th in the Irish Open the best of them and I feel his game will be suited to this week’s test.

He’s the 8th best player on the European Tour tee-to-green, ranking an excellent 5th for driving and a solid 41st and 69th around the greens and in approach respectively. Which has been the makeup of recent performances. The approach play has been a little underwhelming compared to his best, shown by him ranking 3rd in approach on tour last year and he’ll need to re-find some of his very best iron play to contend, to go with that superb driving. 

He finished 4th at the Olympics in 2016, further showing how good he was playing around that period and think he has the game to contend here if he’s on it. At 29, he’s still got plenty of time to get back to the level he’s capable of and if he can show the best version of himself this week, he’ll go well.

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