2016 Olympic men's golf tournament power rankings
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2016 Olympic men’s golf tournament power rankings

Credit: Keith Leventhal/Golf News Net, Cannot Be Used Without Permission

Whether you like it or not, golf in the Olympics is here. Much has been made about why some of the world’s best won’t play. More has been made about the lack of a team format. At the end of the weekend, however, there will be a gold medalist in the sport. It will be special. Who will wear it? Let’s rank the contenders:

The Bubba Watson Group

  1. Bubba Watson, USA
  2. Sergio Garcia, ESP
  3. Justin Rose, GBR
  4. Patrick Reed, USA

Four months ago, this was a group of one, with Bubba threatening the top three in the world and never shying away from his passion to play in this tournament. He embraced the idea of playing for the good ol’ U. S. of A. in the Olympics from Day 1. He’s been spotted wandering the scary streets of Rio because, well, he can. The course is built for him: wide open and inviting imagination.

However, with no top-10s since Doral, will passion for the event (one could argue this tournament means more to Bubba this year than any major) be enough to overcome sloppy form? Bubba stays the favorite but has competition from the other top golfers in the world who have also shown a healthy respect for their Olympic responsibility. Sergio has four top-5s in his last six starts. Justin Rose has been grinding this week. Patrick Reed burns for these types of moments and is in the midst of one of his most consistent stretches.

There is a major gap between the top 15 in the world and the rest. With only seven of those 15 playing this week, it’s a safe bet the winner comes from that pack, which leads to…

The All-Smiles All Stars

  1. Henrik Stenson, SWE
  2. Rickie Fowler, USA
  3. Matt Kuchar, USA
  4. Danny Willett, GBR

Two major winners in this group are still on a victory lap. Stenson should be the betting-line favorite, but has his summer grind been too much? Does he feel the need to win this tournament, or enjoy being a major champion, washed in Swedish colors?

Willett has been in a Masters hangover all summer (one top-20, three MCs) but doesn’t need Olympic glory to make his 2016. Fowler is in a funk, but has been the most outward American Olympian. Nobody is having more fun in Rio from the US contingent, but you wonder what Rickie’s actual chances are. Kuchar may (or may not) know the format, was last man in and got a free trip to Brazil. Smile away, Kooch!

If not for the talent, others would be ranked above, but each has the pedigree to win this, you just wonder about the want-to.

The Andy Murray Start Ups

  1. Rafa Cabrera Bello, ESP
  2. Emiliano Grillo, ARG
  3. Danny Lee, NZL
  4. Thomas Pieters, BEL
  5. Jhonattan Vegas, VEN
  6. David Lingmerth, SWE
  7. Byeong Hun An, KOR
  8. Bernd Wiesberger, AUT

This will not be the first tennis reference, which is symbolic given how much that sport (which also has four majors each year) embraces the Olympics. Rafa Nadal skipped Wimbledon but is healthy enough for Rio?! Did he not hear about those deadly mosquitoes?!

At the time Andy Murray won an emotional gold medal in London in 2012, he was the lucky loser amongst a game that had too many heavyweights above him. That triumph confirmed his position in the upper echelon of his sport, where he remains today alongside Novak Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer. He won his first major later that year, and three total since.

This isn’t to say that the eight golfers on this list will be in the ‘Big Three’ someday, but all have shown flashes or the pedigree to be something even greater than what they are right now. Perhaps an Olympic gold is what it takes to boost them up the ladder.

The Jaco Van Zyl All-Ins

  1. Jaco Van Zyl, RSA

He gave up his spot in two majors to focus on a tournament he never would have been in if not for a handful of countrymen bailing on the opportunity. Gary Player was smiling ear to ear at such dedication to Olympic golf. It was a bold move. Will it pay off? Probably not with gold, but a podium finish would be one of the great stories in golf this year if it happens.

The Dragons

  1. David Hearn, CAN
  2. Graham DeLaet, CAN

This isn’t to say that Canadians have more national pride than any other country. However, when it comes to golf, Canadian players have grown up playing in a team environment. Team Canada is something that goes back to the earliest junior level. It’s so fierce that the adopted team mascot is the dragon. No real reason. It’s just cool.

Ask Brooke Henderson what Team Canada did for her development. Hearn and DeLaet will echo those comments. Are either poised to win based on recent form? Maybe not. But in an Olympics where golf has struggled to develop a team feel, maybe two golfers whose formative years in the sport are rooted in playing for Canada will use that embedded memory to push to the podium.

The This is Major Group

  1. Thongchai Jaidee, THA
  2. Nicolas Colsaerts, BEL
  3. Yuta Ikeda, JAP
  4. Anirban Lahiri, IND
  5. Soren Kjeldsen, DEN
  6. Joost Luiten, NED
  7. Kiradech Aphibarnrat, THA
  8. Mikko Ilonen, FIN
  9. Fabian Gomez, ARG
  10. Shingo Katayama, JAP

Good players. Most on this list have an accomplished resume, complete with a full grind to become eligible for majors and make one heck of a living. None will ever win a major, likely, so could this tournament be the greatest title of their career?

The Andre Agassi Group

  1. Martin Kaymer, GER
  2. Alex Cejka, GER
  3. Padraig Harrington, IRL

When Agassi won the gold medal in 1996, it was the resurgent jolt needed to find greatness again. Kaymer and Harrington are (were) both certainly great, but Cejka? He was a top-50 player a little over a decade ago and has risen over 400 spots since falling outside the top 500 in 2013. While not a major champion, he’s a recognizable name that could be the outlier to watch this week.

The Zika Survivors

  1. Brandon Stone, RSA
  2. Scott Hend, AUS
  3. Marcus Fraser, AUS
  4. Seamus Power, IRL
  5. Jeunghun Wang, KOR
  6. Nino Bertasio, ITA

If not for the defections of one (or more) big names, there would be no start for the men on this list. Life is all about taking advantage of the opportunities presented to you. Well, this is a huge, life-changing opportunity if you win. This quartet should be on the range a few minutes earlier than normal on Thursday morning.

The Hopeful Sponsor Exemptions

  1. Thorbjorn Olesen, DEN
  2. Cheng Tsung Pan, TPE
  3. Ryan Fox, NZL
  4. Gavin Green, MAS
  5. Matteo Manassero, ITA

A group of uber-talented young players that have reached various levels of professional success but have not busted through to be consistent threats. A good showing this week could open a few doors, or build some confidence, to get into a bigger spotlight.

The Grow the Game Group

  1. Gregory Bourdy, FRA
  2. Julien Quesne, FRA
  3. Wu Ashun, CHN
  4. Hao Tong Li, CHN
  5. Fabrizio Zanotti, PAR
  6. Rodolfo Cazaubon, MEX
  7. Adilson da Silva, BRA
  8. Felipe Aguilar, CHI

On a number of different levels, the gentlemen on this list bear a bit more responsibility than just playing for individual glory. France is looking for growth from its golf talent pool. Victor Dubuisson won’t be in Rio, so this French duo is hoping to jumpstart a deeper appreciation for the sport in France.

China is trying to become a power, but the results just aren’t there yet, although Li is young and has a ton of potential.

For a country that produced Lorena Ochoa, the lack of good Mexican men in golf is noticeable. Having Mexico represented in the games is good, but Cazaubon has been overwhelmed on the Web.com Tour this year.

The first tee shot on Thursday will be hit by da Silva in his home country, on a course that had to be built in the void of any capable of hosting this event. A stretch of solid play could inspire a nation of followers.

The Bob Costas Monologue Magic Group

  1. Ricardo Gouveia, POR
  2. Miguel Tabuena, PHI
  3. SSP Chawrasia, IND
  4. Danny Chia, MAS
  5. Espen Kofstad, NOR
  6. Jose-Filipe Lima, POR
  7. Roope Kakko, FIN
  8. Wen-Tang Lin, TPE
  9. Siddikur Rahman, BAN

Whether Bubba or somebody from this list wins, there will be a story, coupled with an emotional scene with a country’s national anthem. If the tournament doesn’t deliver a marquee name, you can guarantee it will deliver a marquee story. If one of these golfers bests the field, the back story will be worth the time.

About the author

Will Haskett

Will Haskett

Will Haskett has had the privilege of broadcasting basketball, football, golf, soccer, tennis, cross country, track, swimming and lacrosse on every medium and in almost 30 states. He's worked for ESPN, Westwood One, CBS, Longhorn Network, Fox Sports, Turner Sports, Sirius/XM, the PGA Tour, the NCAA, Horizon League, Butler University, IHSAA and more. He's worked the Final Four, the Masters, PGA Championship and over 100 NCAA championships in 13 different sports.