The formal PGA Tour schedule takes a break, on hiatus, while the world focuses on Olympic glory in Japan. Back in 2016, golf returned to the Modern Games after over a 100-year layoff. Organizers decided to bring it back, and in Rio, golfer Justin Rose took home the gold, winning over Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar. The medal stand is ready to go again …
This year’s host will be the prestigious Kasumigaseki Country Club, which underwent a makeover at the hands of Tom and Logan Fazio. The original layout dates to 1929, when the club became the first in the province. Since then, it has hosted numerous tournaments, including the Japan Cup on several occasions. The setup will not quite be to U.S. Open standards, but we will see a challenging tree-lined set of fairways, deep bunkers, and some rough that will present a major obstacle to those who find it. A sixty-person field of representatives will come from 35 countries. They got here by either being a part of the Top 15 in the Olympic Rankings (which essentially mirrors the World Golf Rankings), or by being the lowest outside of that list. The top 2 from each country make it in, but it is possible for a nation to have up to 4 representatives.
The U.S. leads the way with Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa (The Open Champion), Xander Schauffele, and Patrick Reed (who is replacing Bryson DeChambeau after a positive COVID test). If anyone has to pull out, the next golfer from that country draws in. For the record, as the host country, Japan automatically gets 2 entries, and those spots are held by Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama and Rikuya Hoshino. Other notable names include … Rory McIlroy (Ireland), Paul Casey (Great Britain), Viktor Hovland (Norway), and Si Woo Kim (South Korea). A late scratch was Jon Rahm, this year’s U.S. Open Champion, who tested positive for COVID-19. That was a huge blow to Spain’s chances, since he was a leading contender for a medal.
Check out some of these wagering recommendations, as we try to go for the Gold!
GOLD BET: Rory McIlory – Ireland (+1200)
Here is probably the least patriotic Olympian competing to secure a Gold Medal in Japan … counterintuitive, I know … Rory McIlroy, channeling a variation on the old Charles Barkley quip of “I’m not a role model,” says he is not much of a jingoist when it comes to backing the green, orange, and white of his native country. That comment probably needs context, and it probably speaks to the complicated past of Northern Ireland more than anything. Despite this debate and the political history that is ever-present, the fact of the matter is, golfers are here at the Olympics to play golf. Plain and simple … though, at times throughout its history, the Olympics has served as a way to reflect nationalism or not, the competitive spirit is always much more intriguing. As for the 32-yr-old’s chances this week in Japan, I am bullish on him because he can play aggressively, and when he gets going on the international stage, it can be a command performance. Certainly, his past history in the Majors, and in events like the Ryder Cup are something to lean on. I think if McIlroy can control his driving (his play at Royal St. George’s in The Open was rather uninspired), and drain the makeable putts (which he can), then he has the chance to be in contention for not only a medal, but for the top spot on the podium. At odds hovering around 12/1, that should do nicely.
SILVER BET: Abraham Ancer – Mexico (+1800)
If you have followed my picks since May, then you know I am an Abe Ancer fan, and willing to pick him almost week-to-week. The young man, who is a dual citizen of Mexico and the U.S., has what I call “surge ability.” That translates to having the fortitude to string together a number of birdies. Playing for home country Mexico, just when you think he is faltering, and not particularly on his game, he powers through with some impressive shot-making. I like his chances this week … as his numbers speak to pin-seeking, and let’s not forget that he is 18th in the FedEx Rankings. Ancer’s driving accuracy percentage is more than inviting (70.80%, 7th overall), and that might be his greatest strength. Setting oneself up for a second will be one of the “keys” on a tree-lined course with a punishing rough. If Ancer can keep his head about him, he could be well on his way to a medal. Wouldn’t that be impressive for a guy who has made the most of his 2021. More to come from this talented ball-striker, and his odds of 18/1 make him a viable play to make the medal stand.
BRONZE BET: Si Woo Kim – South Korea (+6500)
Much has already been made in the International Press pertaining to golfers from South Korea who are trying to win a medal at the Tokyo Games in order to avoid military service. They sat out The Open Championship in order to prepare for this Olympic moment. There is something fascinating about this line of inquiry, and it probably has something to do with the fact that, at least in this instance, sport trumps everything else. Like many countries, South Korea has a strict military draft, and expects service from those in their mid-20s. There are examples of golfers who had to put on hold their PGA dreams, and it greatly affected their game once they returned. Si Woo Kim, when he is not snapping his putter and then having to use his 3-wood, is a pretty consistent player. All aspects of his game can work as one, and in 2021 he continues to put together some nice performances. At the Memorial Tournament he finished in the Top 10, and besides his win in the American Express, one his best tries of the year. I like his price coming into the Olympics at 65/1. Just winning a medal would obviously be a coup for the South Korean. The incentive here is absolutely huge for him, and I think he is up it. This is going to be one of those angles that will be interesting to wager and watch!