Olympic Golf 2016: Complete Guide to Men's and Women's Tournaments

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2016

Olympic Golf 2016: Complete Guide to Men's and Women's Tournaments

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    Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

    For the first time since the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, gold medals will be awarded in men’s and women's golf. And while much of the story in the buildup to the Games concerned the golfers opting out of the contest, we’ve mercifully arrived at the week where competition will take place.

    And unlike when George Lyon captured gold for Canada 112 years ago, players won’t be subjected to five days of 36-hole match play competition. Instead, golf fans will recognize the format as the one they see every week: 72-hole stroke play.

    The men’s contest will include golfers from 34 nations, with 23 of the countries fielding two competitors. And the women's side is equally as compelling. More about the qualifying process later.

    Read on for the top storylines, gold-medal favorites and Team USA checkup.

Overview and History

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    Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

    Golf hasn't been a part of the Olympics since 1904, as has been discussed ad nauseam. George Lyon of Canada won gold more than 100 years ago.

    The sport was also a part of the games of 1900 in Paris, where Charles Sands of the United States won. Margaret Abbott of the Chicago Golf Club won the women's portion, which saw only three competitors tee up. 

    It isn't surprising, then, that golf was stricken from the roster of Olympic sports in 1908, owing to lack of interest. 

    In 2009, the International Golf Federationwith Peter Dawson and Ty Votaw at the helmsaw the sport reintroduced to the Games program for 2016 and 2020 by the International Olympic Committee. 

    Unlike the last time golf was played when the format was match play, the IOC and IGF decided a limited field of 60 competitors playing a 72-hole stroke play competition would be best. 

    The Official World Golf Ranking was the basis for qualification, with the top 15 golfers qualifying automatically (with up to four from any one country).

    Outside of those 15, a maximum of two golfers from each country among the top 60 in qualifying points secured a spot.

The Schedule

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    Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

    The format is exactly what golf fans are used to seeing: 72 holes of individual stroke play.

    The men’s event runs from August 11-14 and the women’s tournament from August 17-21, starting at 7:30 a.m. local time for rounds one, two and three and 7 a.m. for the final round.

    The final tee time and finishing times will be 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., respectively, for the first three days, and it will be 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. for the final round.

    Scores are cumulative and all competitors will play 72 holes. There is no 36-hole cut.

Top Storylines

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    Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

    Actual Olympic golf stories

    For more than five years, we've been treated to Olympic golf storylines concerning whether or not the course would be completed and who was opting out of the field due to concerns about the Zika virus. This week (thankfully), we'll be treated to the actual game and players competing for the gold medal, which is much better than the "will they withdraw?" drama.

    USA's stacked deck

    Thanks to having four golfers inside the world top 15 on the men's side and three on the women's, the United States will field seven golfers among the 120 in the combined competitions. And considering the talent level of the players in question, that gives the Americans a reasonable chance of taking the gold in both tournaments. The U.S. is also the only country that could, mathematically, win all six medals available.  

    Can Lydia Ko add another laurel? 

    Leading points-getter (go figure) on the women's side, 19-year-old, two-time major champion Lydia Ko will look to add another achievement to her already-distinguished resume. Four times a winner this season, the world No. 1 is poised for gold as she arrives in Rio.

Locks for Gold

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    While there can only be one gold-medal winner in men's golf, here are the frontrunners for the honor on the men's side, as well as the one clear choice on the women's. 

    Henrik Stenson

    A winner at Royal Troon, Henrik Stenson followed up that performance with a top-10 finish at the PGA Championship. He's the highest-ranked golfer (in terms of OWGR) in the competition, and he's clearly playing at a great level. 

    Sergio Garcia

    Always enthusiastic during the Ryder Cup, Sergio Garcia will be excited to represent Spain in Rio. He's had a couple of weeks of rest following a disappointing missed cut at the PGA Championship. If he returns to the strong form he's shown over the past months, the 36-year-old could be wearing a gold medal. 

    Justin Rose

    While other top players were backing up, Justin Rose stepped up, letting everyone know he was excited to be a part of the Olympics and would embrace the totality of the experience. He hasn't had an impressive finish since returning from injury at the U.S. Open, but there's no doubting his pedigree. 

    Lydia Ko

    What can you say? There's no better bet on the women's side than Lydia Ko, who has spent 42 weeks atop the Rolex Rankings.

Dark Horses to Watch

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Patrick Reed

    Fired up for the Olympics with top-15 finishes in his last three starts, world No. 14 Patrick Reed won't get the attention of Rickie Fowler or Bubba Watson on the U.S. side. Don't be surprised if he outperforms his countrymen, however. 

    Padraig Harrington

    One of the public faces of the process of golf's return to the Olympics, Padraig Harrington hasn't done much recently. However, he wasn't doing much before his most recent win at last year's Honda Classic. An absolute wildcard, but you could do worse than taking a flyer on a three-time major champion eager to do his country proud.  

    Stacy Lewis 

    A dogged competitor, former world No. 1 Stacy Lewis won't get anywhere near the attention of Lexi Thompson, and there'll be plenty of poetic waxing about Gerina Piller's Solheim Cup brilliance. She's tallied top-10 finishes in her last four starts.

Team USA Outlook

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    Men

    The men's side features Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler. All four golfers are ranked inside the top 15 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

    Much has been made about Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth pulling out, but the fact remains: the U.S. side is the strongest overall and the the only team with four golfers in the competition.

    Of the four standouts, Reed and Kuchar are playing the steadiest golf at the moment, but of course, Watson can overpower any golf course in a way no other golfer in the field canif he's mentally engaged and on his game for four rounds.

    Women

    Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller make up the U.S. squad on the women's side.

    Lewis (at No. 7) is the top-ranked American in the race to the CME Globe, but Thompson was the top American points-getter in Olympic qualifying. She's also the only one of the trio to have won this season, although all three have at least eight top-10 finishes apiece and are inside the top 15 in the "race" standings.

    All three are inside the top 20 in the Rolex Rankings.

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