PGA Tour events have been taking center stage on a weekly basis, but that will come to a halt this week for the first time in 2021. There's a valid reason for that, however, as golf is a sport at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and will be played this week while everything else in the sport is put on pause.
The competition this week marks just the second golf event at an Olympic Games since 1904 and it's the first-ever appearance for the sport during an Olympics held in Asia (the three previous instances happened in Europe, North America and South America). The men's field this week is not the best we'll see this season, but there is still plenty of intrigue and storylines heading into four days at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
Let's take a closer look at this week's contest with odds provided via William Hill Sportsbook.
Event: Men's Olympic Golf | Dates: July 28-31
Location: Kasumigaseki Country Club -- Saitama, Japan
Par: 71 | Purse: N/A
Three things to know
1. South Korean stakes: For Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim, there is far more than a medal at stake this weekend. An Olympic medal would exempt either man from a mandatory two-year military stint at some point over the next decade. As Daniel Rapaport exceptionally laid out in this in-depth look at everything that goes into both these exemptions as well as the mandatory service, there will be more pressure on Im and Kim than anyone else in this tournament. The most sobering part of it all from a golf perspective is not necessarily even the two-year service, but rather the recent evidence of just how hard it is to bounce back on the professional golf scene when it comes to an end.
2. Hideki's green and gold: My friend, Sean Martin, coined the term,"green and gold" for what Hideki Matsuyama is trying to accomplish this week, and I kind of love it. Matsuayama is obviously the reigning Masters champion, and he's (obviously) trying to become the first to double up with a gold medal in the same year he won the Masters (the Masters was still three decades from its inception at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, and nobody who medaled at the 2016 Rio Olympics has won at Augusta). To up the ante a bit, Matsuyama is also trying to accomplish this in his home country on a course where he's won an international competition before. Big week for him.
3. American dominance: After Jon Rahm's withdrawal because of a positive COVID-19 test result, four of the five highest-ranked players in the field are American, and the three golfers with the shortest odds are all American as well. The U.S. has not won a gold medal here since 1900 (to be fair, that was just three competitions ago!), and much will be expected from the quartet of Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Reed. Additionally, the U.S. is the only country that qualified more than two golfers. It would not be a disaster for the U.S. not to win gold given the quality of players at the very top of this field, but missing the medal stand altogether would be extremely disappointing.
Grading the field
The top half is strong. The bottom half ... not so strong. Joining the American, Japanese and South Korean contingent are Rory McIlroy (Ireland), Viktor Hovland (Norway), Tommy Fleetwood (Great Britain), Paul Casey (Great Britain), Corey Conners (Canada), Abaham Ancer (Mexico), Cam Smith (Australia), Marc Leishman (Australia) , Shane Lowry (Ireland) and Thomas Pieters (Belgium). On the back end, you have lesser-known players like Juvic Pagunsan (Philippines), Ondrej Lieser (Czech Republic) and Gunn Charoenkul (Thailand). One interesting thing to watch will be the scoring spread between first and last in this no-cut event. In 2016, Justin Rose beat Ricardo Gouveia by 29. I think it's going to be bigger this time around. Grade: C+
2020 Tokyo Olympics picks
|Winner (12-1): A soft, wet course that plays a bit like Quail Hollow seems like it has Rory McIlroy's name written all over it, but I'm going to go with the guy who finished T3 behind McIlroy at the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this season. Other than a minor blip in June, Hovland has been magnificent so far in 2021. Two seconds, two thirds, a win and seven top 10s worldwide overall to go with just one missed cut. He also ranks in the top 10 in this field in strokes gained since June 1, despite playing poorly (for him) at the Memorial and the U.S. Open.|
|Top 10 (9-1 to win): It was between Schauffele and Thomas in this spot given how well both have played in limited-field events over the last few years. Schauffele has been a bit better from tee to green recently, so he gets a slight nod, but I like both inside the top 10 on my betting card this week despite really short odds. This field is just not deep enough to dissuade me from the talent of Schauffele and Thomas rising to the top over the course of four rounds, and there's no cut to scare me away.|
|Sleeper (66-1): He's been absolutely striking it over the last few months and is 11th in this field since June 1 in strokes gained on approach shots. That's ahead of Patrick Reed and Cam Smith, and just behind Hovland. He's trending a bit, too, with three top-11 finishes in his last four starts on the PGA Tour, including a pair of T2s at the Palmetto Championship at Congaree and last week at the 3M Open.|